My Little Hunters: Friendship is Achieving

by PoH

First published

The Achievement Hunters of Austin, Texas are finishing up a let's play when all of a sudden, a flash illuminates the room. Unconscious for who knows how long, they wake up to not only in another room but in another dimension.

All is well within Achievement Hunter headquarters. Michael, Ray, Gavin, Jack, Ryan, and Geoff all barely finish a Let's Play of Minecraft. Once the camera's are turned off and shenanigans begin to ensue, a bright light engulfs the room, transporting them to some unknown and very colorful place.

Before the eyes of the Princesses of Friendship, Crystal Empire, Sun, and Moon appear six large and hairy creatures. Once awakened, they begin asking questions and demanding answers. With their newfound friends of vibrant ponies, the Achievement Hunter crew and the Mane Six must assist the ponies of Equestria to rid them of a darkness that threatens all dimensions and, hopefully, return home.

Rated T for swearing, some blood, depictions of violence, and alcohol consumption.

Chapter 1: Welcome, Hunters

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Chapter 1: Welcome Hunters

In the Royal Castle of Canterlot

The halls of Canterlot were empty and sunlight entered through the towering windows. The colors are filled with hues of orange, red, and purple signaling the sun's slow dip under the horizon. The dimming light was soon joined by sound of galloping hooves against the spotless floors.

A small amethyst color alicorn with a twinkling star for a cutie mark sped through the halls. Weaving left and right, up and down halls all whilst carrying a satchel over her back. Finally, as she had ran many minutes trying to return from the wizard's tower, she arrived at her desired destination: the throne room. She burst through the door to be met by three more alicorns.

A tall white one with a rainbow colored mane and a sun for a cutie mark, proceeded to ask, "Did you have any trouble finding them?" Twilight had stopped in front of the tall one known as Princess Celestia, currently joined by a pink colored alicorn with a crystal heart for a cutie mark known as Princess Cadence.

"Did our guardsmen assist you as we had hoped?" said the midnight blue alicorn, known as Princess Luna as she began to slowly raise the moon. She turned from the balcony and joined the three alicorns now surrounding a drawn rune on the floor. Twilight spoke.

"Yes," she said between breaths, "they helped like you asked despite having to look low and high for them." She composed herself as and aura glowed around her horn as the bag lids were lifted open by the same aura. White colored gems floated out of the bag and over circular parts surrounding the rune. They began to float on their own.

"Hmm, it seems we have created the rune correctly as the dragon bone paste holds the gems autonomously." Celestia said, examining the gems closely. "Well then, we must begin while the night is young." She proclaimed to the other three.

All three nodded and got on opposite ends of each other and focused to the center of the rune. "Are you three ready?" Twilight asked with a scroll open in front of her. All of them nodded as they began to charge up a predetermined spell towards the center. As they focused, the gibberish on the scroll began to levitate off the parchment and encircled the four alicorns. The power intensified until it was nothing but a white flash.

In the mythical land of Austin, Texas

"Alright then, Ray won the Tower of Pimps!" Geoff exclaimed.

"Woohoooo." Ray said monotonously throwing roses in all directions.

"FUCK!" a raging Michael yelled, "Gavin you fucking moron, why did you kill me and take my stuff?! I could've beaten him off his win streak of like 30!" Gavin shielded his face from the onslaught of punches coming from Michael in the real life as he began squawking all kinds of nonsense. Jack and Ryan turned from their screens and began laughing at Gavin who is now on the floor being pummeled by Michael.

"1, 2, 3 , 4 yaaaaaaaaaay" Ray said as he constructed the Tower of Pimps in front of his dirt abode and jumped around on top, with Michael and Gavin still on the floor. "Lllllllllllet's stop." He then said as he got up from his chair and began to stretch.

Geoff stood up, "Alright let's get these two off of each other before they stain the carpet." as Geoff, Jack, and Ryan reached to pull the still swinging Michael off of Gavin a spark appeared on the ceiling that only Gavin saw. He started to actually push Michael off of him as he became concerned about the sparking.

"Wait, wait, Micoo. Look!!" Gavin yelled, pointing to the spot in the ceiling that was sparking. Michael stopped and looked up as everyone else's eyes followed Michael's and Gavin's.

"What the fuck is that?" Geoff asked quizzically, "Ryan? What is that?"

"Okay just cause I'm good with computers doesn't mean I know everything!" He said half chuckling. Gavin interrupted.

"Wait Gents, Lads." He kept staring upward, "Look, it's gettin' brighter!" The light indeed got brighter until it was hard to look at. One by one they shielded their eyes as the light became more intense.

"What the f-" was all Ray could say before the light vanished along with the six men.

Canterlot Throne Room

The four alicorns stood with their eyes closed as the spell began to work it's power. Twilight watched the gems become drained of their power going from white to a ghostly purple. As the light dimmed, she tried to see the creatures they had summoned. When the light had faded, the four alicorns stood in awe as they saw a species that they had all taken to be mythical.

"A-are those...?" Cadence began, but couldn't finish.

"Humans." Twilight finished her sister figure's sentence. Twilight walked up to the unconscious men and examined them closely. They smelled strange, like Applejack's grazing fields for her animals. "Hmm," she began, "three of them seem fairly young while three look quite older." The other three princesses came closer slowly, fearing that the myths they would tell fillies and colts were true. "I don't think they're dangerous." Twilight concluded.

"We cannot be too sure," Celestia began, "I decree we lock them in the dungeon until we can be sure they will cause no harm to Equestria." Twilight snapped her head up to meet the eyes of Celestia.

"With all due respect, Princess" Twilight began protesting, "but we can't just lock them in the dungeon!" Celestia didn't look convinced so Twilight continued, "If we lock them up and they wake up to a cell, they may respond violently and will be unwilling to cooperate. Besides, they are out of their element and will respond better to peaceful interaction rather than interrogation." Celestia looked at the six men, obviously beginning to be moved by Twilight's words. "I believe we should keep an eye on them, but without their knowledge. Have them stay in the ambassador's chambers until they are awake, but have guards posted outside the door and on the balcony."

Celestia considered this for a moment as she glanced to her sister who was also feeling sympathetic for the humans before them. Celestia gave in, "Alright, my student." she said in a fearful tone, "we will follow your suggestion." She turned to a guard by the door. "Lieutenant, get your most trustworthy men to relocate these humans to the ambassador's chambers before sunrise. Have those same men guard the room from anyone but us four princesses." The guard saluted and galloped out of the room. Celestia turned to Twilight who wore a soft smile.

"Thank you, your majesty." Twilight said with relief in her voice.

"Mark me, Twilight," Luna began, "although we and our sister trust your judgement, we want you to know that should these 'Hunters' not cooperate or begin wreaking havoc on Equestria," Luna said as she closed the distance between her and Twilight until they were a foot apart, "we will personally see to their destruction." Twilight gulped a little bit. Luna sensed this and backed off, "Although, we believe you have made the correct choice. Should they wish to assist us, we must treat them as such, not as common prisoners." She said ending with a glare towards Celestia.

"Yes," Celestia said, slightly embarrassed, "but what of the humans when they find out their personal predicament of not being able to immediately return to their dimension?" The guards had already began filing in and carrying the six humans out of the throne room to their new destination.

Twilight smirked as she watched the guards carry Gavin out last, place the red carpet over the runes burned into the ground, and collected all of the drained gems, "Then I guess we can turn this into more of an exchange than a plea for help."

Chapter 2: The Hunters Awaken

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In the Ambassador’s Chambers

Two days later

It was the morning of the second day since the arrival of the human guests. Two guards stood on the interior of the main entrance to the chambers. They were mostly in awe, than fear, seeing such mythological creatures strewn about the room. Gavin, Michael, and Geoff occupied the massive bed, which was far too large for one ambassador to need. Ryan had been placed on the luxury couch along with Jack on the opposite end. Ray was laying on the rather large and very soft rug that was in between the bed and the couch. The room was hardly quiet, as all six snored at different volumes, with Geoff being the loudest and Gavin being the relative quietest.

“When do you think the princesses will be back to check on them?” the left guard said to the right guard. The other simply shrugged as they continued their watch over the six men. The left guard opened his mouth to say something else but was cut off by the stirring of one of the sleeping humans. Gavin had began to slowly open his eyes to the blinding light that he faced coming through the windowed balcony doors. He squinted as soon as his eyes were open to see anything within the room.

“Oh, come off it,” he mumbled in a low volume to himself about the bright sunrise. He slowly rose not fully taking in his surroundings. He stood and walked lazily to the balcony door. He reached for the curtains on the hooks attached to the wall when he was stopped by the sound of a deep voice he didn’t recognize.

“Halt right there, human,” one guard said. Gavin turned to see two spears being levitated by two…

“Wot in ‘ell are ponies doin’ in the office?” Gavin said out loud as he jumped back against the wall. He took a quick look around and realized he wasn’t in the office anymore, and remembered the bright light that took place.

“Stay right there, human,” the same guard said, “any sudden moves and we’ll have to use force.” Gavin gulped at the threat and at the menacing spears pointed at his face. Gavin was scared, but he’d be less so if he had some answers. So he put his hands up and attempted to calm the guards.

“Okay, okay. No sudden moves.” The guards’ expressions didn’t change as they retracted their weapons to their sides and Gavin slowly lowered his hands to his sides. Gavin was still thrown for a loop: Talking. Ponies. He must’ve woken up in a dream and Michael probably accidentally knocked him out in their play-scuffle. He tried shutting his eyes very tight and opened them quickly to force himself awake. Nothing. He tried again and again, but to no avail.

“What do you think he’s doing?” The left guard whispered to the right guard. The right guard looked on as Gavin tried different methods to force an awakening. The right guard sighed, closed his eyes and shook his head towards the ground.

“Human,” the right guard said, interrupting Gavin who was currently biting his own arm and now began looking at the guard with his arm still in his mouth, “you are not dreaming, if that’s what you think.” Gavin removed his arm from his mouth and began listening to the guard. “Trust us, we thought humans were mythical until you six showed up.” The guard looked over to the other five beginning to stir in their sleep. He sighed again, addressing the other guard, “Go get the princesses. Tell them that the humans are awake and to return with haste.” The other guard saluted and went into a full gallop out of the main doors. Once he had left, the right guard returned to his post and stood, his eyes not leaving Gavin.

“Soooo, wot is this? And did you say ‘princesses’ earlier?” He asked the guard, beginning his walk back to the bed looking at all of his unconscious friends.

“Save your questions for the princesses, human.” The guard said with a dominating tone. Gavin scoffed.

“Well, at least ya answered one of my questions.” Gavin said, ending the short lived conversation.

The Throne Room

Celestia paced back and forth in front of Twilight and Luna, who were both reading large scrolls in search for something. Celestia felt anxious. They had been working for two whole days and they had realized a pattern in the counterspell: the ingredients used are of a more complex nature, but fewer than the original spell. It also called for a reciprocation in the casting of the spell and the gems used to make a return trip. But the gems are where the problem was.Celestia stopped pacing to face Twilight and Luna.

“Twilight?” Celestia asked for the routine check-up on their progress. Twilight kept scanning her eyes down the scroll.

“Nothing yet, princess.” Twilight said, without taking her eyes off the scroll. Celestia turned to Luna.

“Sister?” Celestia asked, hoping for the best. Luna simply looked up at her sister and shook her head slowly. Celestia let out a small sigh as Luna went back to searching for the missing ingredient. She began staring at the small mound of scrolls, books, and stone tablets found throughout the royal library that could’ve aided them, but failed. There was a separate pile of texts that they haven’t gone through yet. Celestia picked one of the books up with her magic and began searching for the gem herself. “What would be the opposite of a Siren Gem?” She kept searching through the book. Twilight expended the scroll she was reading and tossed it in the “read” pile. She looked at Celestia with slight confusion.

“I’m not sure what to be looking for, princess.” Twilight said, picking up another scroll with magic, “I mean, there is no clue as to whether or not the ingredient is a gem, a runestone, or anything for that matter.” She began unraveling the the scroll pouring through it. Celestia was turning the pages of the book until she reached the end of it, not knowing any more than when she started. She levitated the book over the “read” pile and dropped the book onto it. She looked at the black, clouded, triangular prism gems that lay inert on the floor. She pondered over the possibilities on where to begin looking next. Her thoughts were interrupted but the slamming open of the main door. Celestia turned to see a speeding guard come to a screeching halt. As soon as he stopped, he bowed his head, and relayed his rushed message.

“Princess, the humans have awoken. We need you three there immediately.” The guard finished. Celestia nodded once and turned to the other two princesses already standing.

“We must make haste then.” Luna said. Twilight was already giddy with excitement.

“After the examinations I took, I can’t wait to see what they’re like when conscious!” Twilight squeed, as all three princesses and the guard bolted out of the room towards the ambassador’s chambers.

Outside Ambassador’s Chambers

The three princesses galloped and closed the distance between themselves and the door to the chambers. They could see a lone guard outside the door standing at his new post. They slowed to a stop in front of the door. The guard bowed and then rose.

“Your highnesses,” he began, “they are all awaiting your arrival inside. If I may ask, where is Princess Cadence?” All three princesses and the left guard were catching their breaths from the long run. The left guard especially since he had to make the trip twice. Celestia composed herself before the other three ponies and spoke.

“Thank you, Captain,” she started, still huffing a small bit, “and to answer your question: Cadence had to return to the Crystal Empire to ensure the safety of the Crystal Heart and Flurry Heart.” The right guard nodded once at the satisfaction of his answer. “Both of you may go and get some well earned rest.” The two guards bowed, and began their route to the barracks at the lower end of the castle. Meanwhile, the three princesses began to compose themselves.

“Is everyone ready?” Twilight asked first, with some giddy anxiousness in her voice. Luna took in one last deep breath and nodded. Twilight turned to Celestia who was looking at Twilight over her shoulder.

“Before you begin asking them questions for your personal research, Twilight,” Celestia said with strictness in her tone, “let us answer their questions first, as they are our guests.” Twilight looked at Celestia then at the parchment, quill and inkwell readied with her magic to take notes. Twilight’s cheeks grew a rosy color as she set aside the things. Celestia smirked and rolled her eyes at Twilight’s embarrassment. She turned her attention to the door and slowly pushed it open.

As the door silently drifted open, she began walking in to see all six of the men huddled at the edge of the bed. They hadn’t noticed her or the other princesses walk in. Celestia cleared her throat. All six men snapped their attention to the sound.

“Gentlemen,” Princess Celestia spoke in a regal tone, “I am-” was all she was able to say before being interrupted by two of the humans.

“Holy. Fucking. Shit.” Michael and Ray said in unison. They stared at the three princesses and scrambled to get a closer look.

“Gavin wasn’t lying!” Michael said very loudly, “I thought he was just bullshitting to get to Ray and I!”

“I told you, you bleedin’ gits!” Gavin said. Geoff, Jack, and Ryan could only look on in shock that this was actually happening. Michael and Ray were pretty excited about meeting the ponies that they would watch on TV and began making countless references to episodes that occurred in the past. Geoff finally snapped out of the stupor he was thoroughly embedded in and took to action. He walked over and pulled Michael and Ray back behind him. Ryan and Jack soon followed Geoff and stood side by side with Geoff in front of the princesses. Geoff crossed his arms, looking quite unamused.

“Alright, can any of you three tell us why the hell we’re here.” Geoff said, annoyed. He didn’t get a response so he continued, “Because you three look like you all know what’s happening. So we want answers. Now.” Michael got next to Geoff’s ear and whispered.

“Ya’know Geoff, you don’t have to be all dickish about it.” Geoff responded by putting his finger up, not looking at Michael. Michael got the hint and backed off mumbling something about just being polite.

“Well, then.” Celestia began, “skipping the formalities and straight to the point. I will now answer any possible questions you may have.” She straightened herself and resumed, “Yes, we did bring you here by the use of magic. No, we did not choose you all specifically. Yes, you should be able to return home after you have completed a mission we have for you six.” Geoff kept flickering his eyes down as he checked off a mental checklist of questions he was planning on asking.

“How long will we be here?” Ryan spoke up. Luna turned to Ryan.

“You may be here anywhere between six months to a few years.” Luna responded. Geoff didn’t seem at all okay with that answer.

“You expect us to stay here for more than six months?” Jack said immediately after Ryan’s question was answered. Celestia turned to Twilight and gestured towards the agitated Gents with her hoof. Twilight nodded and stepped forward.

“Not entirely,” Twilight started explaining, “You see, we used a spell that reached across universes for the first answer it could find. That answer so happened to be you six.” The Lads had just walked up together to listen to what Twilight had to say. “So, when we pulled you from that thread of space, we pulled you from that thread of time as well. So in your universe, you may be gone for just a second or two. But that doesn’t stop you from aging in your universe.” All of the men pondered over this turn of events. Ryan was the first to speak.

“I mean, I guess that makes sense?”

“Does it really, though?” Michael asked, looking at Ryan. All of the AH Crew turned to Ryan for confirmation.

“Again,” he started chuckling, “I only work on computers! I’m not a quantum biologist or whatever it is space people do.” Everyone but Geoff laughed at Ryan’s comment. Geoff just stood in silence. Michael was the first to stop laughing and ask the next question.

“What was that spell for anyways. What were you three looking for?”

“The spell,” Twilight began, “promised the summoning of the greatest Hunters in the nearest universe. These Hunters, as said by the spell, were to be ‘slayers of all that is dark and evil.’” Ray started chuckling.

“Think your spell took that a little too literally? We’re the only achievement hunting crew in our universe, and we all sit on our asses playing video games for a living.” Ray said jokingly. Despite the grim situation, all of the AH Crew seemed pretty relaxed. All except for one concerned Hunter.

“How dangerous is this mission?” Geoff’s serious tone broke the chatter. Celestia’s smile from the talk faded and she cleared her throat.

“As compared to endeavours you’ve faced, we’re not sure. But to us princesses,” she gestured behind her to the two other alicorns, “it’s quite a challenging feat, and maybe even impossible to us.” Geoff grimaced and started wondering what can be done to avoid this altogether. Then Ray spoke up to ease Geoff’s mind.

“So you guys have a way back ready, right?” Geoff, along with the other AH members looked at Celestia. She sighed.

“Yes.” she said. The faces of the six men were lightened with grins, only to be slipped away by the incoming information. “And no. You see, we have the list of ingredients but not the instructions to perform such a complex spell. We also simply cannot spare the resources or manpower to search for these ingredients. You all would spend these next few months gathering the resources for this spell, complete the mission, and we will return the favor by performing the spell and sending you all back to your respective universe.” All of the AH Crew looked at one another. Their faces all said the same thing. Geoff spoke for all of them with the best consensus answer.

“Alright, princess,” Geoff said confidently, “we’ll help you with your problem.” Celestia smiled at this answer. Then chuckled. “What’s so funny, princess?” Celestia composed herself once again.

“I believe this spell worked better than expected.” Celestia said, with a smirk on her face.

“Why do you say that?” Ray asked.

“Because you all have the boldest of hearts to accept the mission before we even let you know what it is.” Luna said, also smiling.

The AH Crew were confident in whatever endeavours they will be facing in the next couple of months. With their new confidence in each other, they not only wanted to get back home, but also wanted to help these ponies with their problem no matter how big or small it is to the Achievement Hunters.

Chapter 3: Meeting the Hunters

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Outside the Ambassador’s Chambers

“Well then,” Celestia said after her relief that the men would accept the mission, “I feel that we’ve been rude in that we didn’t get to introduce ourselves.” Michael and Ray cringed sheepishly at that.

“Sorry, princess,” Michael said, still smiling with slight guilt, “that was mostly our fault.” He gestured to himself and Ray for emphasis. Celestia only chuckled lightly.

“It’s quite alright.” she continued, “I am Princess Celestia. I control the sunrise and sunset, for those who don’t know.” She showed emphasis by directing a playful little smile towards Michael and Ray, then returned her attention to the rest of the group, “This is my sister, Princess Luna,” she gestured with a hoof towards Luna, to which Luna bowed her head slightly, “She controls the rising and setting of the moon. And finally, Princess Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship.” Twilight simply smiled and nodded once to indicate that she was the owner of the name. “Princess Cadence could not be here for as long as all six of you were unconscious. She is the Princess of the Crystal Empire and had to return to her subjects and ensure the safety of the Crystal Heart.” All of the AH Crew were confused as to what the Crystal Empire is, who Cadence was, and what the Crystal Heart was. They all turned to Michael, seeing as he is the most educated on the topic.

“I’ll tell you guys about it later.” Michael responded to their obvious confusion. After being answered, all of the AH Crew returned attention back to the princesses before them.

“So,” Luna broke the momentary silence, “what are your names, pray tell?” Geoff decided to speak up first.

“Well, my name is Geoff Ramsey.” Geoff looked at the rest of his friends as a nonverbal cue to introduce themselves. One by one, they each introduced themselves.

“Ray Narvaez Jr.”

“Michael Jones.”

“Jack Pattillo.”

“Ryan Haywood.”

“And last, but certainly not least,….” Gavin prepared for an extravagant bow making the three princesses snicker, “...Gavin Free.” He said as he bowed to match the preparation.

“Just call him David,” Jack said chuckling, directing the comment to the princesses but gesturing to Gavin..

“Right then, Shannon.” Gavin retorted, making all of the AH Crew laugh (mainly how he said it combined with what he said) as the princesses stood there, not understanding the assumed inside joke they were all sharing. Celestia was noticing how the one named Geoff was finally loosening up. She felt that since they were the ones in the foreign environment, the princesses should do their best to ensure the trip back to their universe was completely possible. Even then, she understood Geoff’s worry and fear of not returning home.

Celestia cleared her throat, which made the laughter slowly dissipate. “I am glad you all are beginning to ease yourselves, despite the situation we have found you in,” with that, all of the Crew remembered how dire their position is and smiles began to fade slightly, “but we should get you all up to Starswirl’s Tower to get you acquainted with your…”

“Sorry, to interrupt,” Gavin said, clutching his stomach, “but we’ve been out cold for like two days. And I don’t know about you Lads and Gents, but I’m starvin’.” His stomach grumbled loudly, to which Geoff’s and Jacks followed in suit. The AH Crew conversed between each other about their collective hunger and thirst. As Celestia began to ensure food after their business in Starswirl’s Tower, Twilight spoke before Celestia could.

“Princess Celestia, I’ll take them to the dining hall to have them fed, and then I’ll escort them to the Tower to receive their spells.” Celestia looked at the group of six men. Although they’ve already had a few laughs and introduced each other, she still remains on guard against them. “And besides,” Twilight continued, “you and Princess Luna have been glued to the books looking for those gems that who knows how far you and Luna are behind on your work with the ponies of Equestria.” Celestia thought about this.

“She is right, sister,” Luna went off of what Twilight said, “we haven’t given any thought of Equestria in the moment. We have only been thinking of it’s future. Maybe we should return to our duties and have Twilight be our in-between to the col- I mean men.” Celestia continued thinking about this choice. After hearing both her sister and her faithful student attempt convincing her, she made her decision.

“Alright,” she said, to which Twilight squealed giddily. She leaned down to Twilight’s ear and whispered, “Make sure to keep an eye on them at all times I still do not fully trust them.” Twilight stopped her excited spasms and nodded towards Celestia, confirming she will do as Celestia instructs. “Now then,” she rose back up to her royal posture, “my sister and I will leave you six in Twilight’s care. Should Twilight inform me of any of your disruptive behavior, there will be consequences.” She received a mix of nods and flimsy salutes from the AH Crew. She then turned with her lunar sister following her down the corridor in the direction of the throne room.

Twilight, now alone with the Crew, directed her attention to them. She held her excited emotions within her as she began to walk by them in the opposite direction that the princesses went. The AH Crew followed closely behind Twilight, since they all do not want to upset any of the princesses they were just introduced to.

In the halls of Canterlot Castle

Twilight walked her way through the immense halls, weaving left and right with confidence. Ryan, Ray, and Gavin simply “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed at the art, the shininess, and the views the castle beheld from the middle of their little tour group. Jack and Geoff simply walked from the rear, believing Michael would be best suited to talk to the more important ponies since he understands them better than anyone in their group. Coincidentally, Twilight trusted Michael the most, as he seemed the most educated of her world. Although, this brought suspicion how he was able to recognize the three alicorns without ever personally meeting them before. He shed light on this suspicion in hopes of calming her alertness.

“So humans have this thing called ‘TV.’” Michael began his explanation, “There are shows that play on the TV, and some of them are meant for kids.” Twilight was intrigued at this technology that didn’t require magic at all. “One of those kids shows is actually your universe.” Twilight was shocked hearing this.

“So your people watch our world constantly for entertainment?? And it’s a show for children! What are you doing watching it??” Twilight said in a low-yelling voice with her face slightly flushed. Michael, noticing she’s reading too deeply into it, put his hands out and shook his head.

“No, no, god not like that.” Although, he doesn’t mention the stranger section of the fanbase, he does decide to keep that information to himself. “The show only shows the certain parts of you and your friends’ biggest adventures that involve friendship, to which the female kids from our universe use as lessons to themselves to apply in their lives.” Twilight eased her embarrassing thoughts to a halt at the sound of this explanation.

“Okay…” she started again, “But that doesn’t explain why you, a grown up man, is watching a show like that.” Michael chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Yeah, about that: there’s quite a few people more or less like me in my universe, in the sense that we watch that show. We’re called ‘Bronies.’ Don’t ask me why we do it, everyone’s reasons are different.”

“Fair enough.” Twilight said. “Bronies?” she questioned out loud, more to herself than to Michael. “Well, between you, your friends, and myself, it’s best we not mention it to anypony else. Not even Celestia. There’d be discomfort and uneasiness throughout all of Equestria.”

“Ignorance is bliss.” Michael said, looking over his shoulder. Gavin had his head all the way back looking at the ceiling’s decor and began falling back towards Geoff. He bumped into Geoff as Geoff gave a laughing ‘watch where you’re going, dumbass!’ Michael then turned his attention back to Twilight. They had turned another corner and Michael was thinking about how out of character Celestia was when they first met. Her aggressiveness shocked him to say the least.

“Hey, Twilight?” Twilight lifted an ear with a ‘hmm?’ towards Michael, “Why did Celestia want to throw us in the dungeon while we were out? It doesn’t seem like her to do something like that so...impulsively.” She knew the answer, and she was unsure how to explain to him why she is like that, along with all of the colts and fillies of Equestria. She felt she should just tell him since he entrusted something he believed was fictional to her.

“Well, in Equestrian mythology, the human was a warmongering, savage, and brutal creature. Since they did not control magic, they compensated for having ‘hands.’” Michael listened carefully, as this was something not discussed in the show. He started to think that the show was it’s own separate universe from even this one, since the show never mentioned humans. But that doesn’t explain the movies where Twilight becomes a human. He started getting a headache thinking about all the possibilities of universes that may or may not exist. He instead continued listening to Twilight.

“In our stories,” she continued, “we have seen humans perform awesome feats of combat against timberwolves, manticores, and even the fiercest dragons. But they did not segregate ponies from their combative nature. Pillaged and burned villages and whole cities. They were beasts of destruction, essentially.” She stayed silent for a moment, and finally looked at him. “But you’re people aren’t like that...are they?” Michael thought as they walked, Twilight not taking her eyes off of Michael. He had to answer her truthfully, but the longer he thought, the more it seemed like what he would say is a lie. So he gave her his best answer.

“Not entirely.” Michael said with an unsure tone. Twilight seemed oblivious to his tone, only listening to what he was saying. “We do wage wars, but on ourselves really. To each other. All because of what we believe to be right.” He gestured towards Geoff at the back of the group with his head, “Geoff over there was in the military. But I don’t think he’s actually killed anyone.” Twilight glanced over her shoulder towards Geoff to get a look at him, but quickly turned back as the two made momentary eye contact. “He was a photojournalist in the Army, but his job was taking pictures or whatever. Anyway, humans aren’t that bad. There are jerks, like I’m sure there are some in your species, and there are some nice ones too, like us.” Michael gave her a smile as he finished to solidify what he said. Twilight sighed an internal sigh of relief that these men shouldn’t cause any trouble. She made a mental note to herself to inform the princesses about this newfound information about humans, according to Michael. Twilight, now more relaxed, wanted to learn something physical about the humans. Michael had turned his attention to the hallway signifying the end of the “warmongering” conversation, but she still wanted to learn.

“So since this TV you speak of does not use magic as it’s energy source, and since all six of you were unconscious for two days, I assume magic is not a normal thing in your universe?” Twilight asked, looking ahead as she saw the dining hall approaching slowly. Although she can clearly hear the sounds of amazement from the three men behind her, she can also hear the grumbling of Geoff and Jack at the very back of the group. Despite the laughs and easiness of Michael, Ray, Ryan, and Gavin, it seemed Geoff and Jack were going to be the hardest to get them to come to terms with all of this. Michael’s voice woke her from her thought driven trance.

“Nah,” he said nonchalantly, “magic isn’t really a thing in our universe. Just in stories and stuff.” Twilight nodded as she understood something.

“Well,” she said as the group was closing the distance to the dining hall door, “that explains why you six were out for two days. You aren’t used to magic, so it had a greater toll on you than we anticipated. I’ll make sure to make note of that in my notes on the effects of that spell.” Her horn glowed with a light purple hue, to which the door’s handle matched to same glow. “Anyways, enough information trade for now,” she opened the doors to the massive dining hall with about twelve servants lined up to the long table, “let’s get you boys something to eat.”

Ten minutes earlier

Geoff and Jack decided to hang at the back of the group and watch Ryan, Ray, and Gavin’s dumbstruck faces as they looked at all of the art. Geoff and Jack both felt the same in this situation: trying to be calm, but in a panicky way. They would remind themselves that these princesses could help them with their “mission” and help them get back home, yet they feel that they may have jumped the gun in accepting the mission.

“You think I was a bit hasty with that choice, Jack?” Geoff asked with guilt strewn on his face.

“Nah,” Jack replied with a wave of his hand, “you were just looking out for us. You didn’t want those pony things to hurt us or throw us in prison so you decided it would be a good idea to bide time to figure stuff out, right?” Geoff looked at Jack, awestruck as Jack read him like a Dr. Seuss book. Jack knew what Geoff’s plan was before Geoff himself even knew what it was.

“Well, I don’t feel like I should have spoken for you guys,” Geoff returned his attention forward to Michael and Twilight, “even if you guys looked like I should have answered.” Geoff looked down, feeling the guilt on his face began reaching his heart. Jack was there first though.

“Hey,” Jack nudged Geoff with his fist, but Geoff didn’t respond, “if we didn’t trust you to answer for us, we would’ve said something. Now stop beating yourself up about it.” Geoff glanced at jack and felt more secure, even smiled a bit. From his time in the Army and with Rooster Teeth, he felt that he was a natural born leader. But he also felt something heavy weigh down on his chest… No literally, something was on his chest. Gavin had leaned back so far to look at the ceiling that he was falling on Geoff. Geoff chuckled and pushed Gavin forward.

“Watch where you’re going, dumbass.” Gavin staggered forward with his eyes glued to the ceiling. Gavin’s wild nature always seemed to cheer Geoff up, even in times like this. They had turned a corner, and as they did so, Jack’s stomach grumbled again.

“So, you think we’re close?” Jack said, “‘Cause that felt like the tenth corner we’ve turned and we haven’t gotten there yet.” It was Geoff’s stomach’s turn to rumble, as he felt his stomach.

“I don’t know man, but I’m hungry as dicks.”

The group continued their walk, while Geoff and Jack remained silent, watching Ryan, Ray, and Gavin continue their sightseeing. In the middle of his amusement of the three in front of him, Geoff looked past them. For a moment, he saw Twilight look back at him. She quickly turned her attention to the conversation she was having with Michael.

“Hey Jack,” Geoff said, still looking at Twilight, “you think they can really get us back home?” Jack just kept walking, as he saw the door to what seems like the dining hall. After seconds of no response, Geoff turned his attention to Jack fully. Jack responded to this with a sigh.

“Honestly, Geoff? I have no clue whether or not they can help us.” Geoff felt the same way, but still didn’t show much worry as Jack and him were on a roll with being on the same wavelength in thought. “But if they have the magic to bring us here, I’m pretty sure there’s a way to send us back.” With those final words of confidence after a brief moment of strife, the doors were pushed open by Twilight’s magic.

Grand Dining Hall

After the Crew and Twilight all occupied the seven out of twenty-four seats, the servants disappeared behind a door where plates were clattering and jumbled voices clamored. The Crew, excluding Michael, got further acquainted with Twilight. They learned the little things about her: how she was taken under Celestia’s metaphorical wing, how she met her friends The Mane 6, and how she became a princess. Her mastery of magic impressed all of them, even Geoff. Gavin even showed her a few parlor tricks that he’d picked up over the years. Twilight would then point out how he performed each trick and then 1UP’d him by actually performing the illusion but with real magic. They were there for about thirty minutes, distracting themselves from the nagging hunger in their bellies, until the food finally arrived. Unicorn servers pushed trolleys filled with plates of high end lettuce, tomatoes, apples, daisies and other food items of the sort. Plates and cider glasses were levitated onto the table in front of each Lad, Gent, and Twilight. All six men sat staring at their plates.

“Thank you, sirs,” Twilight said to the servants who bowed and exited through the same doors they brought the food from. Twilight began quietly eating. She realized the only munching came from her as she picked her head up and saw the confused men in front of her. Unsurprisingly, the least confused being Michael who decided to start eating as well. “Something wrong guys?” She turned to Ryan who sat closest to her right of the foot of the table. “Ryan?”

“Uhhh…” Ryan said, slightly lifting up a piece of lettuce letting the tomatoes and apples fall off of it, “...I think it’s missing something.”

“Oh?” Twilight said, examining his plate, “And what would that be?” Ryan let go of the lettuce, still gazing at his plate. Michael continued munching on the lettuce and apples to Ryan’s right.

“Some forks? And meat maybe? If those are things?” Ryan’s voice got slightly higher at the end of each question. Ryan felt an immediate punch to the shoulder from Michael. “Owww,” Ryan grabbed his shoulder, “what was that for?”

“Youf canf fushing ath futhat!!” Michael’s mouth was still full when he spoke in what sounded like garbled nonsense to Ryan.

“Chew and swallow, Michael.” Ryan said slowly as if talking to a child or a pet. Michael began swallowing chunks of food. “There you go, good Michael.” Ryan said as he pat Michael’s head. Gavin was snickering next to Michael while Geoff and Jack were chuckling with food still in their mouths across the table. Ray sat next to Jack just horking down the contents of the plate, not noticing what’s happening. Michael swatted Ryan’s hand as Michael swallowed the last of the lettuce in his mouth.

“First of all, I’m not a fucking dog. Second, there is no meat in this world and you can’t just ask them for it!”

“I’m an omnivorous man that also needs meat! What am I supposed to do? Eat sesame seeds for the rest of the time we’re here??”

“It’s better than just straight up asking a herbivore for meat!”

“Then I’ll just go outside and kill a cow and cook it on my own!”

“Free Edgar 2013.” Ray said, tossing lettuce at Ryan.

“Ryan, Michael, please calm down.” Twilight said with some authority and firmness. Ryan and Michael stopped their bickering and looked at Twilight.

“Yeah, you heard Twilight Twinkle,” Geoff said with food in his mouth and chuckling, “chill out and fucking sit down.” Michael and Ryan glared at each other and then sat down, with Michael still mumbling under his breath.

“It’s ‘Sparkle,’” Twilight corrected Geoff, “but thank you Geoff.”

“No problem, Shitty-Movie-Adaptation-Of-A-Shitty-Book Sparkle” Twilight rolled her eyes with a scoff, obviously not understanding the reference. She turned to face Michael and Ryan.

“Michael, although I appreciate your concern for our species’ diets, remember that our universe is not entirely the same as the one you know. Thus leading me to Ryan: this dish is simply the pre-entree salad. There will be meats and more cider to come. This was prepared the day you six arrived as we assumed that you were omnivorous from the myths and stories.” Twilight smiled at their quickness to returning back to their original playful state.

As if on cue, the entree trolleys rolled into the dining hall. The salad plates were removed and the water cups were refilled. Geoff had a mug of cider with his water as it was already past noon by now and he wanted to drink to help ease the stress of the day. All of the others, excluding Ray, also had their mugs of cider but for the purpose of feast rather than drink. The men were greeted by many different types of meats and vegetables. The six men gazed at the plethora of food sprawled down their sections of the table. As quickly as they came, the servers left once again. Ryan would be the first to say anything prior to any feast of this magnitude.

“Tonight!” Ryan said with volume as his right foot landed on his seat and he held his mug in the air, holding the heroic pose, “we feast like kings!” The other four raised their mugs (glass for Ray), and said a hearty “cheers” to begin the cartoonishly large meal and to later discuss the matters at hand on a full stomach.

Chapter 4: The Secret of Starswirl's Tower

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Dining Hall

The platters and mugs sat on the table finally inert from the hearty feasting. All six men sat back in their chairs groaning at the heavy but satisfying feelings they all had in their stomachs. Geoff reached to his third mug and attempted a drink in a buzzed stupor. Realizing there was nothing in the mug left, he set the mug back down and sat up with another small groan. Ryan was the least affected despite eating the most out of all six men and, unsurprisingly, Twilight. Twilight simply sat, patting her mouth with a floating napkin and letting out a small sigh. She looked at the six men and chuckled.

“So, I assume the food was to your liking?” Twilight said, sweeping her eyes from one side of the table to the other..

“And some, love.” Gavin said as he sat up as well. One by one Jack, Michael, and Ray sat up as well. They all laid eyes on the cleaned bones, cobs, and other food plates and bowls that were near spotless due to the two day fast the men went through.

“That meal was excellent.” Jack said, “Thank you for your hospitality.” The rest of the Crew mumbled their agreement with Jack’s thanks. Twilight bowed her head and looked back at them.

“You all are very welcome.” She began, “After all, you are going to possibly save our and all other universes from potential destruction.” she smiled.

The Crew sat, staring blankly at her trying to comprehend what was just said. The whole of the hall went dead silent at the realization of the severity of the “mission.” None of them expected the mission to be on this scale. Geoff had an idea of how bad it could be, considering the spell that brought them here searched whole universes, but he never thought something like this. The silence was so thick it could be cut with a knife. Geoff decided, before panic would spark, he asked the question on everyone’s mind.

“And how exactly are we expected to do that when we have no magic like any of you stupid ponies?” Twilight flinched a little at the hurtful remark but decided to ignore it and answer Geoff’s question.

“Whether or not you six have magic is not the problem. The problem begins with if what the princesses and I have ready for you six will work in the first place. We didn’t expect you to not have magic since living things in our universe need a mana network to live. So this may complicate things, but I’m not entirely sure.”

“So what is it that you princesses have for us?” Ryan asked the next question everyone was wondering. Twilight stepped off her chair and placed her napkin on her plate.

“If you all are ready, I will gladly show you what we mean.”

“Hold on, hold on!” Geoff said loudly as Ryan, Michael, Ray, and Gavin began following Twilight. Geoff had slammed his chair into the table and began storming over to Twilight. Jack didn’t like the look Geoff had. Jack got up and grabbed Geoff by his arm before he could get any closer to Twilight, which Geoff was already in swinging distance of her. “You expect us to go out on a limb for you and your stupid kingdom on a ‘maybe it’ll work?’ We don’t have magic and even the tall princess said that it might be impossible for even you spell-casting morons.” Twilight stood looking at Geoff.

“Calm down, Geoff,” Gavin said approaching Geoff and laying a hand on Geoff’s shoulder to which Geoff slapped off and he shook free of Jack’s grip. Gavin felt his feelings genuinely hurt by Geoff’s snap at him, but Gavin tried to ignore it and reason that Geoff was just looking out for them.

“You fucking calm down!” Geoff said, not looking at Gavin but directing it at him. “What is it you expect us to do Princess Twilight?! Throw it all away just to save your own asses?”

“That’s enough, Geoff.” Michael said as he put his hand on Geoff’s chest and started pushing him back with Jack’s help. Twilight looked at the ground, letting her mind seemingly wander, but was actually developing some calming words for Geoff that were true. She didn’t want to make any promises and she wanted Geoff to know that, but she also wants him to feel more comfortable with the situation. Maybe even get him to feel obligated to help. She knew he was once a soldier, kind of. Maybe it’s in his nature to help others, as he is exhibiting it in his protection and concern of his friends here. She looked up at him and finally decided what to say.

“Geoff, I ensure you that we did not bring you all here to save only ourselves. This universe has spawned many-a-time a tyrannical, megalomaniac pony that wants this universe to be wiped out. We have taken preventative measures against these kinds of threats. I stand here with not only my universe in danger, but all of them are in danger, including yours.” Geoff flinched a small bit at that last sentence. Twilight took notice that it struck a nerve and she played off of that, finding the weakness in his anger. “Do you have a family Geoff?”

“Yeah, what of it?” Geoff tried to be as aggressive as he was before, but the thought of Millie and Griffon in danger began to make his aggressive demeanor falter.

“And you love your family with all of your heart, yes?” Twilight said, sounding more comforting than informative. Geoff nodded looking at the ground. “Well then, you may not be known as a hero in all universes, not even in your own, but you can be one here. You can be a hero to all universes and only our universe and you six would know. But wouldn’t it just be terrible that we send you six back to your universe only to sit and wait for it’s doom to come knowing you could have done something to stop it? It may not be in your time, but what about your children’s time?”

Geoff had terrible images of Millie fighting for her life in a war that he should have prevented. Not only that, but what about the other guys? What if Michael’s, Gavin’s, Ray’s, or anyone’s future kids get mixed up in it? He didn’t want that to happen knowing he could have done something to stop it. But he still felt like this “mission” would be a long shot should Twilight’s plan work, and totally impossible if it didn’t work. He picked his head up and looked at the faces before him. His coworkers. No, his friends. Not even that… his brothers were all looking at him and waiting for his response. Even now in this emotionally crumpled state, they look to him for guidance. Gavin and Ray smiling, Michael’s confident cross-armed stare, Ryan’s mighty stature and gaze, and Jack’s soft expression gave Geoff what he needed to give his answer.

“Okay,” Geoff began finally, “we’ll do whatever we can to stop all of this. No more complaining from me. I have a family at home and a family right here to protect.” The rest of the Crew patted Geoff’s shoulders and back, reassuring that they all understood why he panicked as he did just then.

Twilight smiled and gave a nod towards Geoff. She looked at the rest of the men.

“Any more anger-driven emotional outbursts?” Geoff chuckled at that as he wiped an unnoticeable tear forming in his eye from the emotional stress. Twilight looked at all of them as they all shook their heads, ending any possible future outbursts of aggression. “Good. Now if you will all follow me, I will guide you to Starswirl’s Tower where we will apply the only and last trick we have up our sleeve.” Twilight began walking down the hallway outside of the dining hall. The Crew followed in closely behind, not sure what this “trick” could be.

Starswirl’s Tower

Twilight and the AH Crew walked up the what seemed like several hundred steps to Starswirl’s Tower, being the second highest tower in the castle. The first being Luna’s observatory. The Crew sighed in relief when they finally reached the top as Twilight continued her pace towards a moderately sized door. The door glowed in the aura of her magic as it slowly opened. The Crew followed Twilight inside the large rotunda.
A run-on counter ran along the inner circular wall that began at the left of the entrance and ended full circle on the right of the entrance. The counter had all sorts of machines and clockwork that would stimulate any curious mind. Other workbenches, counters, and bookshelves dotted the surface area of the doughnut-shaped room. The tower room had a second floor dedicated to one-of-a-kind spellbooks and ancient texts. One long bookshelf was against the outer wall of the room.

“Welcome to Starswirl’s Tower.” Twilight said proudly. The whole Crew was now in awe at the architectural design of the room to the finest details. The room’s floors and walls seemed to pulse with magic as the designs had small shockwaves of pure magic flowing through the designs to the vertex of the rotunda like electrical impulses to the nerves. All but one of the Crew stayed closely behind Twilight. Gavin approached the counter on the inner wall closely observing each mysterious device. It wasn’t until a small, white floating flower petal caught his eye. He let out a long “oooh” at the sight. Bent over, he turned his head from the petal towards the group and asked Twilight.

“Oi, Twilight!” Twilight turned her attention to Gavin to hear what he had to say. “Wot is this ‘ere flower petal for?” Twilight smiled at his curiosity.

“Oh,” Twilight began, “that is the last known petal of the Moonshade flowers.” She turned her attention to the large bookshelf in front of her and the rest of the Crew followed her eyes except Ryan who kept staring at Gavin. Gavin “ooh”ed again as he got closer wondering why it’s so special, despite it being one of the last of it’s kind. As if Twilight read his mind, she explained it’s importance as she shuffled through the books on the shelf pulling each halfway out, one by one.

“It was once used in hospitals as a healing plant. It was able to complete astonishing feats of medical miracles. Despite the hospital’s ‘regulation’ of the flower’s use, the flower became more and more rare until it was almost non-existent. The host of that petal was doomed to wilt soon so we had to get several petals before it wilted. That is the last one of the host left being sustained by the magic of this room.”

Gavin was lost after “healing plant” as he remembered his scuffle with Michael two days ago. He had a large bruise on his arm and a small cut on his finger that had already scabbed, but it still burned. So he thought that if such a flower were so powerful and being kept alive by the room’s magic, he could just borrow a little touch for the pain in his arm and the sting in his finger. His index finger barely grazed it, then the flower dissipated right in front of him. He made a small gasp and Ryan stifled a laugh with his hands as Twilight finished her history lesson.

“But please don’t touch the petal. These flowers were to be handled by at least adept mages. Petals were extracted in very precise and careful manners with gentle tools. One touch of a foreign, organic being could contaminate or even destroy the petal.” Twilight finished, still snout-deep in the bookshelfs looking for something, not noticing the frantic Gavin only meters behind her.

Gavin scrambled quietly along the counter as he found some white thin paper and scissors. He cut out a small amount of paper and assumed that size would match. He placed the paper in the same spot in the air where the petal once was. The paper floated perfectly in it’s place. Gavin then threw the paper into a receptacle and put the scissors back in their place. Ryan saw the whole thing and turned his attention to Twilight as Gavin began power walking back to the group as if he had a pole up his rear end.

“What’s wrong, Gavin? Why do you look so guilty of something, hunh?” Ryan asked with a devious smile.

“Wot are you on about, Ryan?” Gavin asked, trying to keep his cool.

“Nothing. You just seemed guilty.” Ryan replied.

“Eh, we’re all guilty o’ somthin’”

“Can’t argue with that.”

Twilight had just then pulled about three books out of the shelf. Instead of putting them in her neat piles of books, she simply dropped them on the floor. She stared at the back of the bookcase. Before Geoff could see what she was looking at, she stuck her hoof out towards the Crew.

“Please,” she said as she readied her horn, “stand back, all of you. I don’t know what this’ll do.” Geoff extended his arms and grouped the Crew behind him as he forced them backwards.

“So if you don’t know what this does,” Geoff asked, “then why are you doing it.” Twilight inserted her horn into a slot at the back of the bookcase as she answered Geoff.

“Because Starswirl the Bearded had intended what is behind this bookcase to be used in a time of great peril where more than just Equestria was in danger.” The locks began tumbling, clanking, and rumbling behind the bookcase. Twilight removed her horn and began stepping back, keeping her eyes glued to the shelf. “Only he and princesses have the shared knowledge of the spell to unlock this very complex and impenetrable lock.” The tumblers and mechanisms stopped their noise after several seconds of unlocking. The bookcase split in two and slid, parting the way to access the contents within.

Although, these contents were out of view of the Crew. As Twilight gazed at the marvel within, she motioned the Crew to join her in the relishing of the sight before her. The Crew walked over and gathered behind Twilight. Within the bookcase were ten large pedestals, each being about twelve feet in height. Each pedestal was decorated with unique and intricate designs that created a hooked ornament to complement the pedestal. The pedestals each had a tube-like object resting on their flat surfaces varying in color and design.

“So, uhh,” Ray started, “what are these things?” Ray pointed at the pedestals as he finished. Twilight turned one-eighty to look at the six men.

“This is the final option that will supplement the Elements of Harmony.” Twilight said, exchanging glances with the Crew in front of her.

“I’ll say this,” Gavin spoke up, “you ponies like to make everything super flashy.”

“Yes,” Twilight said, “well, these magical scrolls are going to, hopefully, be used by you six without any harm done to you all.” Twilight turned to a voice that she expected to be Geoff but was surprised that it was Michael who spoke.

“Wait, wait, wait. What do you mean ‘do harm to us?’ Have whatever those things are hurt ponies that used them?” Twilight grimaced knowing that she'll have to explain the problem with these scrolls and her​ possible solution to their use.

“There are pros and cons to these tomes before you. The big pro is that they give you access to weapons and knowledge of the weapons’ use. This includes their use in combination with the elements.”

“Uh huh,” Geoff said with his arms crossed, “and the cons?” Twilight gulped, thinking this as the final point where all six would protest and quit. She couldn't blame them, though. The con does outweigh the pro. They already had an unspoken agreement to be completely honest with each other, so Twilight held up to the agreement in her response.

“Well, in a normal situation with ponies,” Twilight paused with a breath, and continued, “the ponies would die in the extraction of the scroll's knowledge from the pony’s mind and body.” The Crew stayed quiet. Twilight felt as if their eyes were boring holes into her head, but she didn't realize until after a few seconds that they were really just waiting for her to continue. “But since your minds and bodies do not seem to contain natural magic, the scrolls’ powers may be lain over your minds and bodies. Much like a blanket.”

“And why does it kill ponies after they're done using it?” Michael asked the next question.

“With you six,” Twilight began explaining, “remember how I said it works like a blanket?” The six of them nodded. “Well with ponies and other magical beings, it merges with the natural magical energy of the user with the scroll's power. When the power is extracted, the natural power of the user is extracted as well as the power of the scroll. But you six…” Twilight waited to see if any of them caught on. To her surprise, Gavin was the first to respond.

“I get it.” Gavin started, “since we don't ‘ave magic for it to take out, it won't kill us… Right?” The Crew turned from looking at Gavin to looking at Twilight for confirmation. Twilight was still surprised at how quick he got it.

“Ya see,” Ryan spoke next putting both his hands on Gavin's shoulders, understanding Twilight's confusion, “Gavin being dumb is more of a chosen hobby for him rather than a cursed lifestyle.”

“Aww, thanks Ryan.” Gavin said.

“Except when he's a dumbass for real?” Michael said loudly.

“During his life AND as a hobby?” Ray cut in, “I don't think there's enough dumb to go around but you took it all during the one hundred-whatever let's plays of GTA. Way to go, champ.” Everyone especially Gavin and Ryan began to laugh. Twilight also began chuckling at Ray's humor, but she was the first to stop as she waited for the six men to finish their well deserved laugh.

“Well then,” Twilight said after the laughing died down, “now that you six understand the theory of the scroll's use, who wishes to volunteer for it in practice?” She scanned her eyes back and forth between the other five Hunters with a hoof outstretched in a questioning manner.

“Alright, fuck it.” Geoff said stepping towards Twilight and the pillars. “I spoke for you guys so I may as well go first.”

“I’ll go next… if it works.” Jack said.

“Okay,” Twilight said, “well, let’s get you started here.” Twilight walked Geoff to the first pillar. Geoff was eyeing the scroll that Twilight lifted with her magic. The scroll was extracted from the casing that it was residing in. The extensive magic from within came spilling out like fog from a fog machine.

“So what will this scroll thing give me?” Geoff asked. Twilight had already begun unrolling the scroll in front of Geoff who began looking upon it’s contents.

“I’m not sure, since you're human and don't have natural magic,” Twilight said as the lettering on the scroll began pouring off the parchment and surrounding Geoff, “But I’m ready to record.” Twilight had a quill and parchment ready to take notes. The magic swirled around Geoff as he read the contents. He then turned his eyes from the scroll to his five friends.

“Holy shit, guys! Check this out!” But then the letters became brighter and began to seemingly merge with Geoff’s person. The Crew shielded their eyes with their hands and Twilight shielded hers with her hoof. It stayed this way for several seconds until the light began to dim. One by one, the Crew lowered their hands to see what had happened to Geoff, if anything happened at all.

“So I guess it worked, right?” Geoff said, examining himself. Geoff wore a raiment under an armor plate that covered his chest, pauldrons and gauntlets to match, and a black trench coat accented with green laced designs. A sheath was strapped to his back with a claymore within. “And I look fuckin’ awesome.” Twilight took down notes while Geoff walked over to his friends.

“Sick duds, man.” Ray said, patting Geoff’s shoulder, “does your armor come in men?”

“No it doesn’t, Ray,” Geoff responded with his hand on Ray’s shoulder, “but we won’t judge if you do. Right guys?”

“Yum.” Ray continued the joke. All six started laughing again at the comedic banter. Meanwhile, Twilight continued writing. Geoff was the first to slow his laugh to a stop. He turned to a note-taking Twilight and asked her the question that all of the Crew was wondering.

“So Twilight, did it work?” Twilight looked up from her notes and approached Geoff. She examined him closely and even checked a few things with her magic. She wrote some things down on the parchment, rolled it up and set it down on a table.

“It has. And some.” Twilight answered Geoff. “The past users’ magical energy seems to have amplified the overall power of the scroll and its effects.”

“Sweet,” Geoff said, turning to the other five Hunters, “so who’s next?”

Chapter 5: Newest Residents of Ponyville

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Canterlot Castle

Guard Training Yard

The sounds of weapons clanged and echoed across the large open yard towards the rear of the castle out of earshot from the rest of Canterlot. The high walls also kept all within out of sight. A magical dome kept the view from the inside transparent, but the outside had an opaque, impassable barrier to keep any unwanted pegasi from getting a view of the yard. Within, training equipment and obstacle courses dotted the massive yard. The courses and equipment were optimized for ponies fighting other ponies. Although, the Achievement Hunters would be able to utilize the dummies and some equipment for themselves. The clanging sounds’ source came from Ray and Michael’s sparring with each other in the center of the yard.

“You knicked me last time,” Michael said to Ray as they both returned to their fighting stances, “but I’m getting a grip on your little moves here and there.” Michael was moderately armored, slightly more than Geoff was. The armor was blackened with a dark raiment underneath. He donned a small cape bearing the AH logo that was connected to his left pauldron. In each hand, he wielded a sword with intricate designs near the guard of each sword. The sheathes were on the left and right sides of his waist.

“So you’re telling me,” Ray responded, twirling his estoc, “I should move more like a man and less like a little bitch?” Ray was lightly armored with blackened leather armor and gauntlets more sturdy than some of the strongest metals from Earth. The fingerless gloves he had made his shining and shortened estoc’s thrusting much more effective. Wrapped around his neck was a flowing, green and black scarf with the AH logo at the end.

As they continued their sparring in the center, Gavin had been over in the corner section on a range. He was also lightly armored similar to Ray’s armor look but with a single bracer instead of gauntlets. At his waist, he had a small banner dangling with the AH logo on it. Alongside the banner, a gnarly dagger hung on a ring within a sheath. He was getting himself acquainted with his bow and arrows. He was joined on the range by several other guard trainees and instructors who were all looking at his arrows flying down range and nailing the center of the target every time. Each time an arrow landed, it would disintegrate and reset itself inside of Gavin’s quiver. The arrows were somewhat transparent due to their solely magical nature.

“Hey, Micool!” Gavin yelled across the yard. Michael stopped his sparring with Ray so that both could look in Gavin’s direction. “Who am I?!” Gavin had three arrows nocked and drawn as he held the bow on it’s side. Michael and Ray reeled back and yelled.

“MAAAAAARK NUUUUUUUTT!!” Gavin let the arrows fly right after the yelling ended. All three arrows hit dead center on three different targets along the range.

“Holy shit, Gavin!” Ray said, baffled at the near impossible feat.

“Nice shooting, boy!” Michael said to Gavin, before turning back to Ray to continue their sparring. The scroll had given Gavin the necessary sight to almost always hit his mark. (no pun intended) As long as his focus was stable, he could nearly hit a butterfly floating around at about twenty meters.

On another end of the yard, Jack was facing many manual turrets aiming at him. Jack was the most armored of the six. From head to toe, he wore heavy armor with the same shine as Geoff’s armor. His helm was open-faced, and the whole helm could retract on command. He wielded a shield in one hand and a jagged mace in the other. The AH logo was imprinted on his shield, which gave the Crew the idea to put the symbol on their person to unify them. Jack had the capability to block hundreds on thousands of incoming physical and magical projectiles with his shield by activating the magical potential within it to create a near transparent and blue ward that extended in a quarter sphere around him, with the magic extending from the edges of his shield. (Much like Overwatch's Reinhardt but with a roof)

Finally, Ryan stood at another end of the yard, fighting multiple magical specters brought forth by runes on the floor. Ryan was armored between Geoff and Jack. Of course, his armor matched Geoff and Jack, ironically splitting the armor aesthetics between Lads and Gents. The AH logo was present on both gloves that he wore. In each hand, he wielded an intricately designed and sharp on all edges battle axe. The scroll gave him sight much like Gavin’s, except Ryan’s was extended to a 240 degree bubble instead of the contrasting laser focus that Gavin's eyes held. This allowed him to detect multiple targets approaching him and enhanced his speed and strength to deal with most threats that would seem overwhelming to any of the other Hunters.

As they trained, three sets of eyes overlooked the training yard from an observation deck. Celestia, Luna, and Geoff watched the Hunters train and get used to their new abilities. All of the Crew had a few shared abilities such as heightened senses, increased speed, stamina, strength, perception, and endurance in combat. Geoff had trained in the yard on his own while the rest of the Crew slept the morning after they received their power. Geoff had already found his strength: going toe to toe with opponents larger than himself. This was exhibited when fighting a dragon familiar. Soon, each of his friends would find their strengths when the princesses and Geoff would go to ground level to evaluate them. But for now, Geoff conversed with the princesses on their living arrangements.

“So why don’t we stay here in the castle until we have to fight whatever this big bad guy is?” Geoff asked the two princesses.

“You see, Geoff,” Celestia began answering, “if we leave you with Twilight and her friends, it’s more likely that we can introduce you to an understanding and friendly community than the one here at Canterlot.” Geoff still wasn’t convinced as he thought that they should stay at the castle until they were ready to be introduced to the same community they were being pushed to live in. And then Luna spoke up to further try to convince the skeptical Geoff.

“We and our sister also believe that you and your counterparts would be required to bond and interact with your new allies who will aid you in your journey to retrieve the required materials for you to return to your realm. Not only that, but they hold a high word in Ponyville as the Elements of Harmony. The town will, for the most part, trust their judgement.” Geoff had forgotten that Twilight mentioned something about retrieving ingredients for a spell or whatever.

“So why don’t you two just tell us what to look for and we’ll be on our way?” Geoff asked, shifting his eyes between the two of them. Celestia shook her head and responded.

“We cannot tell you because we have yet to find the spell’s ingredients. The book with the spell’s instructions are within the castle’s grand library, which is equivalent to a labyrinth. It may take days to months to find it, depending on the luck of the many soldiers we have already assigned to search it day and night.” Geoff felt a bit more convinced, but he dismissed his argument as unnecessary due to the fact that they now have a place to stay.

“Well, I guess you two know what's best.” Geoff said with a shrug. Geoff switched his head from the princesses to his closest friends in the yard. He hoped that they'd all make it out in one piece, even if it costed himself. He felt responsible for everything that happens to them because they all look up to him for his lead. He made an unsaid promise to himself he wouldn't let anything happen to them. Despite their newfound abilities, Geoff worried. His worry was enough to show the princesses his concern. They looked to each other and seemed to have had the same idea. Luna stepped forward to Geoff's side. Her voice grabbed his attention.

“Excuse me, Geoff. We would like to escort you to your colleagues so that we may evaluate assets within your group force. Our sister has left the combative observation in our charge as we have hoof-picked our most prestigious soldiers.” Luna said with pride and a hoof to her chest.

“And with that, I have duties I must attend to.” Celestia said as she bowed her head towards Geoff, “Please excuse my absence.”

“It's alright.” Geoff said as he began walking alongside the lunar princess, “lead the way, princess.” Geoff tried to get himself to feel better. He didn't want to be the glass half empty guy around those who looked to him for guidance. He pulled himself together to meet with his friends in the yard. Once they had walked down a flight of stairs to the open yard, Luna gathered the other five men, who now have a grasp on their abilities. She stood at the center of the six of them and spoke.

“Whom of you brave humans will step forward first to begin evaluation?” Luna said, with a trace of her old, royal Canterlot voice.

“I will,” Geoff said as he stepped forward, but then had a hand on his shoulder from behind him. The hand pulled him back behind the hand's owner.

“You've been going first for everything.” the voice and hand's owner being Jack. “Let us do something first, yeah?” Jack looked over his shoulder at Geoff with a smirk as he said this.

“Yeah, then I'm next!” Gavin chimed in.

“I guess I'll go after Gavin then.” Michael said casually.

One by one, the Achievement Hunters volunteered, and one by one they were evaluated in different simulations magically conjured by Luna and a handful of court wizard unicorns. The last thing they exhibited was their teamwork in pairs, in threes, and all together. They learned how to combine their efforts to take down the biggest constructs that Luna and the wizards could conjure. The time spent in the yard passed the hour of the sun’s descent below the horizon, which Celestia handled the moonrise as to not interrupt the evaluation process. When the moon was getting close to it's zenith, the evaluations finally concluded.

“Are we done... or wot?” A winded Gavin said bent over his knees.

Luna was breathing heavily, but nearly invisible as compared to the six huffing and puffing men before her.

“Yes,” Luna said after composing herself, “the evaluation has concluded. You six may return to the ambassador's chamber. You all have earned a well deserved rest. Tomorrow at dusk, we will see to your departure with Twilight Sparkle to your new home while you stay in our universe.” She turned and began walking towards the exit. She ordered a guard to show the men the way to the ambassador's chamber so that they do not become lost. Luna bid them goodnight as she left the yard to attend to her nightly duties of watching over the moon.

Once they had recovered, the Crew were lead back to the dining hall for a meal. Although not as grand as the one eaten the day before, it was just as filling and less hunger induced. Once done there, they were guided back to their room and slept soundly only in their raiments.

Castle Balcony

The next day; sunset

Once the day came to a close, the six men sat on a balcony. The balcony had no railing as to make the landing of chariots easier. They chatted about their strengths: Geoff's ability against larger foes. Jack's ability to defend an area. Ryan's ability to handle overwhelming forces. Michael's ability against defenses. Ray's ability at parrying an advance. Finally, Gavin's ability to be well hidden and make ranged kills. From this, they reminisced about home. Their cramped office, their friends, their past Let's Plays, and many more happy thoughts. They shared a few laughs as well. But soon, the talk became grim again about many possible negatives to the plan. There was an awkward and painful silence.

Michael broke the silence by starting a new subject: the ponies they will meet. Michael went one by one, explaining who they should be, at least as far as the TV show let on. The other five asked a few detailed questions about each one. But then the chariot arrived. They agreed to get confirmation about Michael's information when they actually meet the ponies in question.

Twilight stood alone on the golden vehicle with three armored pegasi hooked up to it. The chariot was slightly larger than a normal one to fit all six men and Twilight.

“Well,” Twilight said after a few seconds of silence from the Hunters, “get on so we can go. We're on a bit of a schedule. I still have to give you a quick tour of the castle to prepare you all for your stay.” Geoff eyed the chariot closely as if looking for danger and expecting to find it. Twilight noticed this and rolled her eyes with a smile. “Yes, Geoff. It's completely safe. Just get on and let these escorts do their work.”

Ray shrugged. He began to mount the chariot saying, “Ah, fuck it. The worst that can happen is we fall off. Even then, you got us. Right, Twilight?” He gave her a playful punch on her shoulder, which she rubbed with a grin and a chuckle through her teeth. One at a time, each man stepped carefully into the chariot. With everyone aboard, Twilight gave the order to the pegasi to begin their departure. The pegasi began to gallop while flapping their wings, pulling the chariot towards it's destination.

Ponyville

The sun fell under the horizon as they flew over a layer of clouds with some random breaks in the layer. The chariot ride was filled with bits of informational chatter about Equestria. Whatever Michael couldn't answer or he answered inaccurately for his friends, Twilight would give the answer to their questions. Gavin nudged Jack with his elbow, a grin strewn on Gavin's face.

“Oi, Jack” Jack turned to face Gavin, “how much would the exchange rate of these bits be back home?” Jack looked at the currency in Gavin's hand and thought for a minute. He shrugged, unsure of the answer. “Maybe just a lit’le bit less than your dollar or quid.”

Geoff put his hand over his eyes and said disapprovingly “Fucking kill yourself, dude.” Michael, Gavin, and Jack started laughing. Ray and Ryan were too busy looking over the edge of the chariot at the plains and wilderness of Equestria through the cloud breaks to notice the laughter. After their laugh, Twilight got all of their attention to look forward in her direction.

“Well then, welcome,” she said, “to Ponyville.” The clouds cleared and the small town came into view. Maybe a few hundred or so ponies lived in the small abodes. To the men, it all looked straight out of a Skyrim game but with the color scheme of a typical little girl's TV show.

“Thank Christ we don't live somewhere called Humanville or some bullshit like that.” Ryan said with a chuckle. Twilight was a little annoyed at that comment, but she immediately got over it since all of these humans seem to be some real jokers. She thought about how well Rainbow will get along with them.

The chariot landed with a light thump at the entrance of Twilight’s castle. Twilight was the first to exit the chariot and waited for the six men to dismount as well. After the chariot emptied, Twilight thanked the pegasi. The pegasi bowed and departed at a quicker pace since there was no load to bear. Twilight turned and gestured for the men to follow. They obeyed and allowed Twilight to open the large doors to her shining castle.

“You’re the princess of wot, again?” Gavin asked, gazing at the interior of her castle.

“Friendship.” She responded.

“Remind me,” Ryan said to Gavin, “when we get home to become Friendship King Ryan. Princess of the Sun and Moon ain’t got shit on Friendship.”

Castle of Friendship

Midnight

Twilight had hardly taken a breath in her “quick” tour of the castle and the Hunters had hardly heard a word she said. In a half exhaustion, half interested daze, the Lads and Gents anxiously waited for her to finish her rambling. And then suddenly, their only way out of this unending tour was when they walked up to and almost passed a large door.

“And these will be your quarters while you stay in the castle.” Twilight said, gesturing quickly to the door to her right. “Each of you will have a bed and room of your own while you stay here. Now if we go down this hallwa-”

“No! No, no.” Geoff said loudly at first and then calmed his desperation for sleep with a nervous smile, “maybe we can continue the tour on another day?” Twilight raised an eyebrow and shrugged.

“Okay then, but I was getting to the fun part.” Twilight said with the expectation for an enthusiastic “let’s continue” from the Hunters. Of course, no such enthusiasm was present.

“Ten bits says the 'exciting part' was the library,” Ray whispered to Ryan.

“Twenty bits says there’s nothing fiction in the library.” Ryan whispered back. Both of them snickered at each other’s bets.

“We’re pretty beat, Twilight,” Geoff said, “and we want to get some sleep before tomorrow. This way we’re not dead when we meet your friends.” Twilight smiled with embarrassment for keeping them up passed their desired sleeping hour.

“I’m sorry,” Twilight said backing up, “I didn’t mean to keep you all. Please, help yourselves to your rooms through that door. I will make sure that my friends know that it is of utmost urgency that they be here tomorrow, despite the short notice. Goodnight, everypony.” She ended with a slight bow of her head. She turned and began to walk down the hall, leaving the Hunters to their rooms.

“Well,” Jack said, “I don’t know about you guys… *yawn* but I’m going to bed. See you guys in the morning.” He opened the door to a hallway with many rooms on each side. The other five yawned in agreement and began to walk through the door. Each chose their rooms on either ends of the hallway. The first room Geoff opened happened to be common room, which he quickly ignored and moved to the next one. Once in their rooms, their respective amount of armor and raiments fizzled away into magical dust. They each mounted their beds and immediately were overcome by the sandman's dust.

Sweet Apple Acres

Early Morning

Twilight knocked on the farmhouse door belonging to Applejack and her family. After a few seconds, the door opened up to a little filly, Applebloom.

“Hey there, Applebloom,” Twilight said, “do you know if Applejack’s around?”

“Good mornin’ Twilight. She’s in the barn right now.” Applebloom responded with a smile, “But ah think she’s busy.”

“Oh it’s okay,” Twilight said already turning towards the steps behind her, “I won’t bother her for long. Thank you, Applebloom.” Applebloom gave a quick nod before shutting the door. Twilight trotted over to the large barn doors and entered. Applejack seemed to be bucking hay bales upwards to Big Mac to get them to the rafters. Around the side of the barn were several piles of hay that seemed to be needed to be put into bales as well. Twilight felt like she was intruding on her work and began to walk back out as not to disturb her at this moment, but Applejack saw her walking out.

“Hey Twilight.” Applejack quipped and turned to Big Mac. “Think ya can move those into place before ah send more to ya?”

“Eeyup.” Big Mac said with a little salute to his sister. Applejack turned her attention back to Twilight.

“What can ah do ya for, Twilight?”

“Sorry to interrupt, but would you be free later on at about noon?” Twilight asked. Applejack thought for a minute and quickly responded.

“Ah am indeedy. After this, ah’ll be done by noon and then ah just have to wash dishes after dinner and a few other chores. So noon’ll be perfect.”

“Great.” Twilight responded. “Come to the castle when you’re able. And make sure to knock before coming in.” Applejack raised an eyebrow quizzically.

“Twilight, you never ask me or our friends to knock unless something really bad or really good’s happenin’. Really hope it’s the latter, and not the former.” Twilight kicked the dirt with her hoof thinking of what to say without just throwing it in Applejack’s face.

“Well,” Twilight decided on what to say, “let’s just say it’s something your everyday pony wouldn't be accustomed to seeing.” Applejack studied Twilight's reluctant expression but decided not to pry.

“Alrighty then. You know what’s best. Ah’ll be there by noon. Now if you'll excuse me, ah got hay bales to buck.” She returned to her original position. “Alright Big Mac, you ready for more?” She hollered to her brother as Twilight walked out. After she left the farm, she decided she’d go tell Fluttershy next. She was still worried about the reception of these humans to her friends, but she thinks they’ve seen worse so they’ll be more than ready for this kind of news.

Castle of Friendship

11 am

Ray was the first to wake up. Sleeping on furniture and not the floor let him feel much more invigorated than the past few days, but he still felt a bit drowsy for waking up so late in the morning. He looked around the room and didn’t find what he was looking for. He stood with a groan and stretch.

“Why are there no clocks in this room?” He said to himself as he finished his stretch. “Once these ponies don’t scream at me or whatever when they see me, first thing I’m gonna do is get a clock.” He reached for the door’s handle and opened the door. He shuffled slowly down the hallway until he opened the door that Geoff opened the other night that lead to the common room. He walked in and left the door open. He sat down on a rather comfy chair. He noticed a grandfather clock against the wall across from him. It read eleven. He threw his arms up.

“Well, shit. If I wanna tell the time I gotta go to a different room?” Michael walked into the room rubbing his eyes and yawning.

“Why the fuck are you talking to yourself this early in the morning?” Michael said as he plopped down on the couch next to Ray.

“‘Cause it’s early in the morning,” Ray began, “and I’m not used to having slumber parties with co-workers so I narrate my life as to fill the empty void that is my mornings.” Michael was looking at Ray tiredly as he talked. Michael yawned again.

“You said a lot of shit that sounded like you getting real with me so I’ll say this:” Michael reached over and put his hand on Ray’s shoulder and looked him in the eye, “shut up, and just sleep some more.” Michael returned his hand to his side and slouched into the couch as to massage his neck with the backboard. Ray took Michael’s advice and closed his eyes in hopes to fall asleep again. Within the span of about twenty mintues, each Hunter walked in. Throughout this time they talked about the castle and other random topics that came to their tired heads. Ryan entered next, then Jack, Gavin, and finally Geoff. Geoff stumbled in and lay strewn on the couch over Michael, Gavin, and Ryan’s legs.

Michael was snickering to himself at the expression on Geoff’s face as he began to fall asleep on their laps.

“So uh, what are you doing there Geoff?” Michael said.

“I’m dead and you guys are loud and obnoxious.” Geoff said lazily.

“So you come to the source?” Ryan said with a confused look on his face. “Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.”

“I’m here to get in the way of you guys and your talking.” Geoff responded. Michael was still giggling to himself as Gavin spoke.

“Yeah Geoff, you think that you comin’ in ‘ere and laying on our laps will stop us from talking?” Geoff picked his head up.

“Maybe. Let’s see how you well you talk after I castrate you by hand.” Geoff scrambled to start wrestling with Gavin as Gavin began squawking. Everyone else was just laughing as Geoff wrestled him off the couch and to the floor. They rolled around for a few minutes until Ray looked past Ryan and saw a figure standing at the door.

“Wow,” the figure said, “Twilight wasn’t kidding!” All of the Hunters except Gavin and Geoff looked towards where the voice came from. It took a few moments for Gavin and Geoff to look as well. In the doorway, Spike stood with a large tray over his head that held what seemed to be lunch. Spike was in awe as he examined each of the humans before him. Ryan was the first to speak.

“Uhh, is that a lizard or something?” Michael started laughing at Ryan’s assumption.

“Yeah,” Gavin said, still on the ground but then got up with Geoff, “is he like an iguana or somethin’?” The rest of them began conversing as to what Spike may be, Michael continuing to laugh as they spitballed relatively insulting reptiles trying to figure out what Spike actually was. Spike was now annoyed at the new guests as he mumbled to himself.

“Geez, these guys seem like jerks.” He walked in and set the tray on the coffee table next to where Geoff and Gavin had their wrestle match.

“No, you idiots.” Michael slowed his laugh to a stop. “He’s a baby dragon.”

“He’s a dragon?” Ryan asked. He raised an eyebrow and looked behind Spike, examining his back. “Cause all I see is a huge lack of wings.” Spike already didn’t like Ryan and he’s only been in the room for no more than two minutes. He glared at Ryan which Ryan seemed to ignore.

“Didn’t you hear me, Ryan?” Michael said.

“Yeah, didn’t you hear him, Ryan?” Geoff said with a small crack in his voice when he said “Ryan.”

“I said he’s a BABY dragon.” Michael continued.

“He said he's a BABY dragon.” Geoff echoed obnoxiously. Spike lit up a small bit as Michael defended him. He also stifled a chuckle at Geoff's attempts at being annoying.

“Fucking rude, man.” Michael said, directing to Ryan.

“Yeah, you moron. The little dragon has no wings and you don’t have a desk in the Achievement Hunter office.” Geoff said loudly, playfully pointing at Ryan. Ryan put his hands up in surrender and apology as the remainder of the Hunters drew out an "oooooooooooohhh" in unison.

“Thanks for unnecessarily backing me up, Geoff.” Michael said, chuckling.

“Wow," Gavin joined, "Geoff got in a really good mood all of a sudden.”

“Nah, it’s still Tired Geoff talking.” Geoff said sitting on the couch then slouching. Michael noticed that the food had been sitting there for a minute or so now and decided to grab a sandwich.

“Well, I don’t know about you guys,” Michael said, taking a bite out of the ham sandwich, “but I’m starving.” All of the Hunters took a sandwich and conversed as Spike stood next to the end of the couch with Ryan sitting next to him. Ryan patted Spikes head.

“Hey, you know we’re just joshin’, right?” Spike got annoyed again but then defused himself to a chuckle.

“Yeah, sorry.” Spike said to Ryan, “It’s just I’ve never had anyone start cracking jokes before I even knew their names.”

“Ahhh, don’t worry about what we say.” Ryan continued, “90% of the time we’re just talking shit.” Spike felt out of his element as he hadn’t heard so much cursing in his whole life.

“Well,” Spike said, “what about the other ten percent?”

“The other ten percent is when Geoff means what he says.” Ryan said as the room erupted in laughter. Spike started chuckling into a laugh. He began to feel more comfortable until the grandfather clock began to chime loudly. Everyone stopped their laughing and looked at the time. Noon. Spike’s eyes widened when he saw the time.

“Hey guys, it’s twelve o'clock,” Geoff said, “does that mean I can drink now and you guys won’t judge me?”

“Come on, Geoff,” Michael said, “we never judge you. Mainly ‘cause you might fire me.”

“I’ll judge you,” Ray said, monotonous, “I do it to all of you all day.”

"Aww, Ray." Gavin said.

“Oh no!” Spike said with his claws to the sides of his head, “we’re supposed to be in the Cutie Map room right now! Twilight’s gonna be so peeved if we’re late!”

“The Cutie what-now?” Ryan asked. Spike grabbed Ryan’s arm and started tugging.

“Come on, you all have to come with me before Twilight gets here.” Spike said as Ryan looked at his co-workers. One by one, they got up and began to depart the room with Spike leading the way.

Castle of Friendship

Noon

Several hooves clopped slowly through the halls of the castle with one set in particular bouncing rather than walking. Twilight lead her group of best friends through the halls to the Cutie Map room. They were all conversing amongst each other as to what Twilight needed to show them.

“This won’t take long,” Applejack asked, “right, Twilight? Ah still need to get back to the farm and do my chores like ah said.” Rarity joined in.

“Yes, I'm with Applejack. This won’t keep us too long I hope? I need to be getting some pre-orders done before tomorrow.”

“Don’t worry girls,” Twilight responded, “this shouldn’t take long. In fact, it’ll only take as long as each of you want it to.”

“I wonder what it is?” Pinkie began saying rapidly, “What if it’s a surprise? *gasp* Don’t tell me, don’t tell me, don’t tell me. I love surprises! Don’t you all love surprises? I think everypony loves surprises!”

“I’m not a fan of surprises..” Fluttershy said, completely inaudible to Pinkie’s loud theorizing.

“You’re not a fan of many things, Fluttershy.” Rainbow said with a grin, nudging Fluttershy. “Pretty much just animals.” They began closing in to the Cutie Map room door. As soon as they got to the door, Twilight stopped and turned to her five best friends.

“Okay, girls.” Twilight said with a big sigh. “What’s behind this door may shock you and may scare you. But I can assure you that this is all completely safe. Just hear them out, okay?” Fluttershy already began to creep away from the group but was stopped by Rainbow Dash and was basically dragged back to the group. What Twilight said earned another gasp from Pinkie.

“Ohmygosh, ohmygosh! You said ‘them?!’ Are they new friends?”

“You could see it like that.” Twilight said nodding. “Now, are you girls ready?” Twilight’s horn began to glow. The door glowed the same color as Twilight took control of the door.

“Ready!” All of the Mane 6 said in unison, excluding Fluttershy who stood behind Rainbow with her eyes closed. As the doors slowly opened, Twilight’s friends stood with their mouths agape, even Fluttershy mustered the bravery to have a peek at what was before them.

“Wow,” Rainbow said, rubbing her hoof behind her head, “I thought me saying ‘you have fake friends outside of us’ was just a joke.”

Chapter 6: Late Night Endeavour

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Castle of Friendship

The Mane 6 feasted their eyes on the sight. Mostly because a whole new species were mere feet away from them. Since Twilight had already met and acquainted with them for the past two days, she was mainly watching her friends’ reactions. From the outside, it seemed all of her friends were baffled. Even Pinkie had stopped her bouncing to make sure she wasn't imagining what she was seeing. The other reason why they watched in awe was because Gavin was dangling from a banner in fear while Michael was swinging his fists wildly at the air towards Gavin. Spike took leave as he had "more important things to do." Twilight knew it was to slack off and read comics so he didn't have to watch these humans and their antics. Irresponsible, but very understandable

“Micool, stop!!” Gavin screamed, “it was an accident! I swear!”

“C’mon down from there Gavin, I swear to god I'll only beat you half to death!” Michael’s yell echoed.

Ryan and Jack stood behind Michael at a safe distance, chuckling to themselves while looking between Gavin and Michael. Ray stood next to Michael also looking up at Gavin while holding what seemed to be Gavin’s dagger. Gavin had been flipping the large knife in his hand when it had slipped and pierced Michael's boot and penetrated his foot about half an inch in depth. Ray picked it up before Gavin could mess with it any further. And so Michael wouldn't stab him with it. Geoff was leaning on one of the thrones with his arms crossed just watching it all go down. Twilight turned away from her friends and finally saw exactly what they were seeing. She sighed with a hoof to her forehead. Then she cleared her throat, to which Geoff was the only one to respond.

“Oh shit,” Geoff swore under his breath, “Sorry Twilight.” Geoff turned to look at Michael and talked in his casual tone, “Michael, we have company. Ray, get Gavin down.”

Michael stopped his flailing to see the ponies across the room at the rather large doorway. He put his arms back to his sides walking over to them with a nervous smile, since his first impression was him trying to beat down one of his friends. In the meantime, Ray put on a devious smile.

“Got you, Geoff.” Ray reached into his gauntlets and revealed two throwing knives. Before Geoff or Gavin could comprehend Ray’s actions, Ray had already flicked the weapons in Gavin’s direction. The knives flew silently as they made two satisfying thwick sounds against the crystal wall as they sliced the frills that Gavin's hands were clutching to. Gavin flinched and realized too late that he was in freefall. He landed flat on his back with no bounce and groaned.

“Awww, Ray.” Gavin groaned out.

“Hey, Geoff said to get you down,” Ray quickly ran up the wall to retrieve his knives and returned to ground level. “he didn't say how though.” He sheathed the knives in his gauntlet. Jack turned his chuckle to a laugh as Gavin began to stand up slowly, but hardly in pain. Geoff shook his head and playfully sighed as the remaining Hunters followed him towards the awaiting ponies. Once there, Twilight introduced everyone.

“Well if you're all done playing with the banners.” Twilight said sarcastically, to which Michael rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “Girls, meet Geoff, Jack, Ray, Michael, Ryan, and Gavin. Boys, meet Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Applejack.” All six men stood with anything ranging from a slight grin to a smile, hoping that the ponies in front of them don't panic or anything.

“Uh huh..” Applejack scanned the men before her, then turned to Twilight, “nice to meet y’all then. So, ya wanna do some explainin’, Twi?” Twilight nodded and had her friends enter the room behind the lovable crew of men. The Mane 6 were in pure disbelief of the supposedly mythical creatures walking along with them. Their eyes were glued to them. Despite nearly exploding, Pinkie was asked by Twilight to contain her excitement until after their meeting. The Mane 6 took their seats in the six thrones that circled the large table in the center. The Crew had to stand around Twilight’s throne for the time being.

“Sorry, guys.” Twilight apologized to the Crew, “some of my friends are busy so we have to make this kinda quick.” The six men muttered a consensus agreement. “Well then,” Twilight turned to her waiting friends, “as you girls can see: these are real humans.”

“No foolin’, Twilight.” Rainbow said with a smirk in a sarcastic manner with a wave of her hoof.

“Yes,” Rarity jumped into the conversation, “what Rainbow Dash said. But what are they doing here?”

“And how did they even get here?” Applejack said. With a concerned look, she eyed the Hunters and then returned her attention to Twilight.

“Well,” Twilight began, “to start, the other princesses and I had noticed a shift in the magical dampening runes that stand outside of Tartarus. We had used a spell to bring these humans to us... unwillingly. Although the spell seemed to be a bit more metaphorical than literal.” The Crew hadn't actually heard what exactly their mission was, so they listened carefully. All of the Crew, excluding Michael, jumped a small bit when the table materialized a map of Equestria before them.

“Now that's pretty cool.” Ryan said with an impressed raised eyebrow. The map focused to an area to the northeast sector. A tall mountain stood with a large hole on its peak. Three stones with ancient runes stood in equidistance from each other along the circumference of the hole. Twilight continued her briefing.

“Here at the Gates of Tartarus, the tomes responded to a magical flux from within. Although nothing was seen leaving Tartarus, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna had gone to investigate personally. They entered Tartarus and found that the plane that was holding King Sombra and limiting his mana network after his banishment was empty.”

“Wait,” Jack said, “who’s King Sombra? And why'd he get banished there?” The Crew looked at Twilight with the same question in their eyes as she explained who he is. She took a deep breath and elaborated.

“Sombra was once the King of the Crystal Empire, which is now ruled by Princess Cadence. Cadence and the Crystal Empire is what we discussed on the way to Ponyville, if you remember.” All but Ray and Ryan nodded. They simply shrugged as they were both preoccupied with the scenery at the time. “I'll recap that later. For now, the princesses and I strongly believe that Sombra has escaped.”

“Well, no shit.” Gavin said with a chuckle. The Mane 6, excluding Twilight, had a light gasp at Gavin’s vulgar language. “If there’s no one in the damn thing, and there’s supposed to be someone in it, then what's he gonna be doin'? Hiding under his bed?” Twilight sighed at Gavin’s sarcastic remark. Before she could retort, Applejack responded first.

“Hey, don't be disrespectin' our friend like that!” The Mane 6 had all been glaring at Gavin since he said what he said.

“Yeah!” a cracked voice Rainbow Dash said, “do it again and I'll pound you into next week, bub. Right Applejack.” Applejack gave a quick nod, still staring Gavin down. Gavin hardly felt moved by the threats as he knew he was just joking around and that the ponies looked too small to really do any hardcore damage like he could.

“Yes, please show some more restraint, Gavin, was it?” Rarity gently added with a dainty wave of her hoof, “There's also no need for such ghastly language.” She added a small, posh flick to her hair as she finished her sentence. Pinkie had stopped her excitement and was a bit defensive as well.

“There IS no need to be a meanie pants.” Pinkie said, still with a bubbly tone and a tilt in her neck despite the words used.

“Girls, girls, calm down,” Twilight said in response with a hoof up towards her friends. “This is how these humans are. Real jokers. It took a little while to get used to, but it grows quick on you. I think?” The rest of her friends seemed to calm down a little bit as they trusted their regal friend, except for a disgruntled Rainbow Dash. “But to respond to your earlier remark, Gavin, I’m entirely aware how obvious the observation seems. We had to be entirely sure that Sombra escaped and that he wasn't wandering Tartarus releasing others banished down there. As expected, he wasn't and escaped alone.”

“Alright, luv,” Gavin said, “ya made your point. Go on then.” Twilight gave a nod and continued.

“As to where he's gone or what his plans are is outside of our knowledge. Too many times in the past he has escaped the depths of Tartarus. He alone poses a serious threat to all of Equus, and the elements can only do so much to stop him.” Twilight turned to look over her shoulder. “This is where you guys come in.” The AH Crew shifted a small bit as they knew and anxiously waited for what was coming: what their purpose is in the plan. “With you six having absorbed the power of those scrolls, the scrolls’ true powers are still far from what they can truly exert.”

“You mean what these scrolls gave us,” Michael said, “isn't enough to beat Sombra?” Twilight shook her head slowly. Before the Crew and Mane 6 could feel premature defeat, Twilight added more.

“But those scrolls were not meant to be used alone.” The Crew and Mane 6 lit up a small bit at this information. “The scrolls were created far before even Starswirl’s time, maybe around the time the Elements themselves were created by Celestia knows who. Think that a unicorn mage’s base power and magic is the Elements and each scroll is a staff.”

“So,” Ryan joined, “the scrolls and our weapons are just amplifiers?”

“Indeed,” Twilight responded. “According to Celestia and Luna, the more the users are connected to the corresponding elements, the more power the weapons you hold can output.” The Crew took a moment to glance at the weapons that hung from their person. “Thus, leading me to the solution to this endeavour. These amplifiers do more than incapacitate the affected,” she had a small gulp, “they completely and permanently disassemble the target on a magical level, leaving only small remnants of mana. These remnants get dispersed in the sky as our stars, which remains as a hardly known fact to the rest of Equestria. The old controller of the stars, brother of Celestia and Luna, and the first to attempt eternal night, Prince Étoiles, is among most of the stars in our skies. Although, the stories only speak of the Elements. We don't want criminals trying to steal the scrolls, so we omitted their existence.”

Michael had a small chuckle to himself. Prince Étoiles? I guess they had a brother in this universe. “The Stars will aid in her escape.” Well now that makes more sense.

The room got eerily quiet. To the Crew, they were unsurprised about the possibility of having to kill the enemy. Death by combat was real enough to where they all had prepared mentally prior to the meeting. As for the Mane 6, the gravity of the possible outcome hit them. And it hit them hard.

“S-So, we have to-” was all Fluttershy could muster before Geoff interrupted her.

“You ponies don't have to really do anything, as far as I can gather.” He stepped up to the table and looked over the map, which had then zoomed out to view all of Equestria. “As long as we're here, it's mainly up to us to keep this Sombra guy from pulling any fast shit in the future. For now though,” Geoff turned to Twilight. When he turned, she felt a pulse resonate from his claymore that felt as if it warmed her heart. “What's the plan?”

Twilight was slightly confused as the warmth spread to her whole body for a split second. She couldn't place her hoof on it and decided to analyze this phenomenon further later.

“Well,” she exited her trance, “first we'll get you six better acquainted with my friends here. Then we’re going to have to wait on the town announcement as I'm going to have to plan how to approach the mayor with this information.” She put a hoof to her chin as she plotted. She then noticed the time was earlier than she expected. “It seems that we finished fairly early. Now then. Girls?”

The Mane 6 rose from their thrones and formally greeted the Crew. Pinkie was finally able to let all of her pent up excitement burst at the seams. She zoomed between each Hunter with bombardments of questions mixed with gasps and answers to her own questions. The rest of the Mane 6 simply shook hooves/hands with the humans before them. Jack and Ryan took interest in Fluttershy’s constant retreat and wanted to talk to her the most. So they did. At least they tried. Fluttershy seemed like the pony that will take a little while to warm up to, so they let her be for the time being.

Rainbow Dash was still a bit distant with Gavin at the beginning, but soon began talking and even shared some laughs. This guy’s laugh, Rainbow thought, is pretty contagious. She continued her lively conversation with Gavin as chatter filled the room. It wasn't long until Michael broke away from his conversation with Ray, Ryan, Applejack, and Rarity and strolled behind an unsuspecting Gavin. He balled his fist, then landed a powerful blow in between Gavin’s shoulder blades which made him make a drawn out grunt.

“Wot was that for?” Gavin said, trying to rub his back. Rainbow covered her mouth with a hoof, stifling some giggles.

“For dropping your stupid butter knife on my foot.” Michael said in an aggressive tone but remained grinning, already forgiving Gavin for his mistake. “By the way, Ray still has it, moron.” Gavin came rolling over like a small hyperactive child to Ray’s side. Ray looked at him with a confused expression.

“Hey Ray, Micool said you've got my knife?” Ray shook his head as he pulled it from his belt.

“It's a dagger,” Ray handed it to Gavin, “and stop fucking with it. Jesus man.”

“Thanks Ray!” Gavin slid the dagger back into it's sheath as he made his way back to a now laughing Rainbow Dash.

“What a moron.” Ray said, as he turned back to Rarity and Applejack now snickering themselves.

“Ah never thought ya’ll humans would have this much sense a' humor.” Applejack said, stifling the last of her snickers. “Ah also didn't think ya’ll’d be as civilized as a Ponyville citizen.”

“Do tell, Applejack,” Rarity joined in as she asked Ray her question, “but do you have any sort of occupation back where you're from? Any sort of annual income?” Ray shrugged with emphasis.

“We play videogames for a living.” Ray said casually. Applejack and Rarity were a bit confused.

“Video… games?” Applejack asked with genuine curiosity.

“Yeah,” Ray responded, “don't you guys have them here?” The two mares shook their heads slowly.

“It's like…” Ray thought of how he could explain it. “Imagine a play, that you interact with. So you actually control one of the characters. But it's on a TV.” Applejack picked her head up as if to begin a confused nod, but then spoke.

“Uh huuhh… and what's a TV?” Ray facepalmed and went into greater detail about electronics and their reach in the modern world.

Once the room had eased into groups of conversation, Geoff took it upon himself to speak with a note-taking Twilight. She seemed to be planning how to approach the mayor and then the town with a once-mythological species.

“Hey, Twilight?” Geoff said, as she continued writing but raised her ear to show that she was listening. “For how long do we have to hide from the peop- I mean, ponies in this town?” Twilight, sighed as she placed the quill and parchment down on the table. She stood up from the throne then shot him a reassuring smile.

“Within the week, everything should be ready. The sooner we introduce you six, the quicker we can get you all settled into Ponyville.” She glanced over at a zooming Pinkie and chuckled. “And so Pinkie can throw a ‘Welcome to Ponyville’ party for you guys.” Geoff smiled and relaxed at the sight of his best friends getting along with the Elements’ incarnations. He began walking over to the conversing groups. He patted the back of Twilight’s neck, to which she reacted with a confused look. Not necessarily at him patting her neck, but at his relaxed demeanor.

“Well?” He said looking over his shoulder with a small grin, “You're not gonna just sit there and think about stuff, are you?” She slightly gaped her mouth which quickly turned to a smile and trotted along after Geoff.

The talking lasted a while, about an hour, before each pony had to return to their duties that needed tending to. They left content with their meeting of the humans, not sensing a hint of evil or barbarism. Once gone, Twilight had to draw up schedules and plans with Spike to approach the mayor with this groundbreaking information. She excused herself for the rest of the evening and apologized to the Crew that they had to remain in the castle until she was ready to introduce the men to the small town.

Each member of AH took it upon themselves to explore the fairly expansive castle. Despite its outer size, the castle seemed larger from within, giving them much ground to explore and learn their surroundings. They traveled in pairs: Nice Dynamite, R&R, and OG. They explored the many hallways, stairs, and rooms. Everyone seemed to make themselves at home, considering this may just be their home for the coming months, or even years.

Castle of Friendship

Two days later; 10 pm

Since the Crew had explored every room, walked every hallway, and saw every sight, the worst has come. Their worst fear while spending their time here had come true and was now ravaging their minds to cinder: absolute boredom. The day came to its end as five of the six Hunters sat around in the common room where they had spent their first morning in. Sitting or standing, they were fidgeting with their weapons, their armor, the grandfather clock. Anything to rid them of their boredom. Gavin decided then to break the silence.

“So where’s Geoff gone now?” He was balancing his dagger by the point on his finger. Ryan was tracing the designs on one of his axes with his finger when he answered Gavin.

“I think he's talking with Twilight about the whole ‘meet the town’ thing again.” Ryan puts air quotes when he talks about meeting the ponies of Ponyville. This was because the Crew actually felt nervous that the town may not accept them, or worse: run them out of town. Sure they had special scrolls that made them ultimate warriors within this universe, but the scrolls didn't take away their morals. They couldn't bring themselves to just kill innocents. Then how different would they be from Sombra. But they were ready to still fight against Sombra to protect those here, and those back home on Earth.

Gavin groaned loudly. “I'm sick of waitin’ around, guys.” Ray was looking through the small, hidden compartments of his armor when he spoke.

“And I'm not?”

“Did I ask though, Ray?”

“Did you need to?”

“Well-”

“WHO NEEDS THIS MANY FUCKING POCKETS?!” Ray yelled, interrupting Gavin. Michael started his trademark giggle-to-laugh as he looked up from one of his swords to Ray who was now standing and aggressively analyzing his armor. “I know I'm supposed to have like throwing knives and shit, but look at this!” He showed a small pocket where something the size of a pencil would fit. “What is that?!”

“Hey,” Ryan said, “you can put pixie sticks in there for a mid-battle snack.”

“Okay, calm down. I'm not Jack” Ray countered.

“Oh c'mon.” Jack said, annoyed, knowing what was to come. Michael decided now is perfect to perform his Jack impression.

“Hey, man, don't stab me there, alright? I've got a pre-battle, post-introduction cheeseburger in there. Then I gotta save what's left for the post-victory meal.” Everyone, including Jack, began laughing with only one “fuck you” to respond to Michael’s impression. They laughed for a solid thirty seconds before Gavin made an almost instant halt to his laughter. He instead began to listen for the same disturbance he heard. Again he heard it.

He jumped off of the couch towards the one window in the common room that overlooked a decent section of Ponyville. From it, he used the power in his eyes to see what was happening outside. One by one, the Hunters stopped laughing and directed attention to Gavin. Michael got up from his spot on the floor to check on Gavin. Gavin was leaning out of the window to get a better view of the scene. He could see ponies in sleepwear and looked as if they were woken up. They were running out of the town towards Twilight’s castle.

“What's wrong, Gavin?” Michael asked, concerned about his best friend. Gavin turned to Michael and was pointing wildly out the window. The rest of the Hunters took in the sight, even if it lasted a second or two before reverting back to normal: Gavin’s eyes had been an amethyst purple; a side effect of when Gavin used his incredible sight. “Dude, your eyes were like-”

“Micool, those ponies are runnin’ from something!” Michael looked out the window but didn't see anything. He did feel rumbling. It felt like…

“Those are foot stomps. A lot of them.” Michael said, now leaning out the window himself. He noticed the crowd of ponies moving together towards the castle and felt that whatever it is could be able to do some massive damage to the town. The footsteps they heard were not from the stampede of ponies, but something within Ponyville. He stepped up onto the windowsill.

“Hey,” Ryan said with his arms exteded out his sides, eyebrows raised, “where are you going?”

“Well,” Michael said, “whatever they're running from, I'm sure it'll do more bad the longer we wait.” Halfway through his sentence, Ryan joined him on the windowsill. “That was fast.”

“Nah,” Ryan said, unhooking the axes from his back, “I just wanted to know why you were gonna go. I'm going cause I'm bored as fuck. And to help the ponies, but mostly cause I'm bored.”

Ryan looked back at his friends to see them enthusiastic to leave the castle for once. And hopefully to help. He knew it was unwise to leave the castle and expose themselves to the public. Although if they were to expose themselves, they might as well do it on a good deed to break the ice rather than “Hey, look, we're whole new species you all feared in fairy tales.” First impressions are crucial. The five of them knew they had no room for error. If one pony was injured by their hands, they would never be accepted in Ponyville and all of Equestria in turn.

Ponyville

5 min later

After receiving a few stares of awe and terror, the five Hunters pushed past ponies towards Ponyville. They moved together and with haste to eliminate the threat immediately. Those left behind from the mob that ran towards the castle were now moving as quickly as they could with the injuries they now attained. The Hunters leapt from the ground to the rooftops in one effortless jump and ran quickly on the slanted shingles of the many shops and homes of Ponyville residents. Some ponies remained in their homes hoping the threat would retreat to its home. The Hunters scanned street after street and hadn't seen anything. They finally stopped on a roof above the main market place and looked around.

“I don't see shit, guys.” Ryan said worriedly, thinking their advance may have been in vain and the threat had already retreated. “Maybe we should go ba-” as he turned, one of the many threats had already tackled him off of the roof and fell three stories towards the ground. “OH SHIIT!!” Ryan yelled. There were two loud thuds as he made contact with his back to the floor. The first was Ryan hitting the unforgiving cobblestone floor, and the second being the timberwolf that, upon impact, fell apart into separate body sections.

“Ryan!” Gavin yelled as he slid to the edge of the roof and peered over the edge. The other men joined Gavin in checking if Ryan was okay.

“Are you okay?” Jack yelled to him next.

Ryan groaned as he rolled to his side and attempted to stand up. “I'm.. fine?” He hardly felt the impact really. It's as if his pain tolerance had increased substantially as well as other things. He assumed the other guys had the same ability. As he stood, he could hear chattering and sighs from his friends that he was able to stand okay. He looked down at the large, wolf-looking creature that had fallen apart on impact. When he sensed it, he had turned towards the street with his axes quickly drawn as a set of teeth latched onto the pole between grip and blade of his axe.

The Hunters on the roof were surprised to see another of those wolves and jumped down to Ryan's aid. Michael was the last to jump, and when he did, he saw the first wolf beginning to reassemble itself. He drew a sword in mid air and drove the blade through the wolf's back as he landed. The wolf collapsed again with a ghostly howl.

Ryan had pushed the wolf off of his axe and swung it once towards its face. The gnarly axe made perfect contact and the wolf flew across the street with the glow in its eyes fading to black. More timberwolves emerged from around street corners and dark spots in the marketplace at the sound of their dying brethren. All of the Hunters present drew their weapons and readied for a fight. “Michael?” Ryan called, unhooking his other axe and keeping his eyes on the many timberwolves closing in.

“Yeah?” Michael said as he drew his second sword, occupied with the other timberwolves approaching. Gavin leapt on the awning above them and readied his bow, his eyes taking that same shade of purple from earlier.

“What are these things?” Ryan asked.

“They're timberwolves.” Michael responded, “nothing special, I guess. Just like wolves from earth, just these are made of wood.” The timberwolves began to encircle them, waiting for a moment to strike.

“Are there any weaknesses?” Jack asked next.

“Hit them?” Michael said, remembering how impact hadn't killed the first timberwolf. Only the piercing of his sword or Ryan's axe had killed them. “For you Jack, I guess hit them hard? Since you don't have a sharp weapon, I assume you have to smash them to pieces.” Jack gave a nod and an excited grin.

The Hunters had felt it but didn't see it directly: eyes were on them. Not just timberwolf eyes, but pony eyes from their homes. They were all watching in terror of the sight of two types of monsters, one being mythical and one very much real, about to do battle in their marketplace. The Hunters liked it. They liked having all of the eyes on them, and they wanted to show these ponies that the human race is not what they think it is. They decided to give them quite the show, and capitalize on gauging their powers at the same time. It was unexpected, but the humans made the first move.

Gavin let go of the bowstring. The arrow he launched burst into a set of high speed magical shrapnel, landing hits across a large portion of the timberwolves now preoccupied with the burning pieces within their wooden frames. He leapt from the awning with his dagger drawn. With quickness and accuracy, he slashed at the thin necks of the wolves, severing the heads from the bodies permanently.

Ryan advanced quickly. In a flurry of slashes and shoulder checks, around fifteen timberwolves were thrown into walls and the floor. Many more tried to attempt a synchronized attack, but Ryan was quicker in smashing through their puny attacks.

Ray had three timberwolves bearing their teeth towards him as he stood in an elegant stance. Although Ray was not exactly the type to go up against anything more than one other enemy, he was curious on his actual ability. He decided to learn from the timberwolves attacks. It was then he found their main strategy: isolate and corner. He noticed this earlier when they revealed themselves to the Hunters as a whole. The wolves spread evenly around him, and then attacked. Instead of a fight, he stepped quickly out of danger as all three collided with one another. With one graceful jump, he fell straight down over the pile of the three wolves and gave six quick thrusts. Each wolf received two thrusts, ending their fight. Ray landed on his feet with a spin, and with a flourish of his estoc. It would be cringy for him to say "olay," so he refrained from doing it.

Jack had a simple time blocking the incoming wolves. Brushing some of their attacks off effortlessly with his shield, then delivering a finishing blow with his mace. Each time he dealt these devastating attacks, the timberwolves’ frames would shatter into hundreds of splinters. At one point, several attempted a synchronized attack, which Jack responded by activating the forcefield that now protruded from his shield and stopped the wolves as if they hit a brick wall. Jack then one by one obliterated each wolf with his mace.

Next to Ryan, Michael seemed to have the most fun destroying the timberwolf threat. His swords cut through the logs of the wolves like hot knives through butter. He had shaken off a few timberwolves that had latched onto his swords due to his flimsy defending. From the outside observer, Michael seemed to be the most confident in combat, not worrying too much about letting a few attacks through here and there. It was challenging but he got the job done.

After about five minutes of fighting, the Crew had successfully eliminated the entire timberwolf threat. Pieces of wood ranging from sticks to small logs lay scattered across the empty and quiet street. The timberwolf stragglers retreated into the Everfree Forest as the Hunters admired their work. After assuming the threat was completely gone, they sheathed their weapons and regrouped in the street.

“That was…” Michael said, approaching the group, “...fucking AWESOME! You see when I kicked that one wolf into the other?” He flailed his arms at the end for emphasis.

“And did you see when I charged like five of them into a wall all at once?!” Ryan said out loud next.

“I stopped like ten of them from hitting Gavin with my shield, too!” Jack said patting Gavin’s shoulder.

“Thanks for that, Jack!” Gavin said, highfiving Jack.

“Yeah it was all pretty cool, but,” Ray said, not paying attention to the group, “what about them?” Ray pointed at the ponies now exiting their homes, cautiously. Whether they were cautious of the humans or of the timberwolves, the Crew was uncertain. The ponies slowly gathered and approached the humans before them, some with confused expressions. They stopped a few feet from the group of men and said nothing for a few seconds. One little colt pushed his way to the front and looked in awe at the no-longer-mythical creatures. The little colt ended up being Pipsqueak. He stood, shifting his eyes between the Hunters as the Hunters looked back down to him. Pipsqueak’s smile grew immensely until he hopped around.

“That was bang on, that was!” Pipsqueak said loudly in his English accent. Gavin looked at Michael with his mouth shaping an “o” and wide eyes. Gavin began talking nonsense about how adorable Pipsqueak was with his “lit’le accent” like Gavin’s. Gavin picked up Pipsqueak and they shared a hug. Pipsqueak felt happy that he wasn't the only one that talked differently from everyone else.

The rest of the ponies audibly felt more comfortable around the humans as they closed the space between the two groups. Again, first impressions do count. Ryan was the first to speak to the ponies of Ponyville. As a new hero, along with his best friends, in words of infinite wisdom that could be the most professional the Achievement Hunters could ever possibly make from one species to another, he spoke.

“Uh.. hey everyone.”

Meanwhile

Castle of Friendship

It took Twilight several minutes to calm the crowd outside of her castle. They had been yelling about timberwolves. This, and one other thing, was all Twilight could understand. Geoff presented himself to the crowd after the crowd made it unanimously known that they knew humans existed. But then that fact hit Twilight a bit late as she asked the crowd as a whole.

“Please, everyone remain calm. We will have this situation under control and...wait, how did any of you know humans exist?” Before anyone could answer comprehensively, a pegasus floated downward next to Twilight and bowed. Twilight saw the pegasus in her peripheral vision and turned to face the vanilla colored pegasus. The pegasus rose and spoke.

“Princess Twilight! You will not believe this!” She glanced at Geoff, “Okay, so maybe you will believe it. But a few humans saved the town from a timberwolf attack! They sent me here to inform you.” Geoff, with a frustrated groan, rubbed his eyes at the bridge of his nose. Twilight heard this and asked why he groaned.

“Because,” Geoff said, “they got bored and probably were just curious, of course throwing themselves into danger. I'd expect that of all of them, except maybe Jack. I need to go check on them. Hey, pegasus,” the pegasus turned her head to Geoff, “can you show me where the other humans are?” The pegasus nodded as she flapped her wings and hovered, waiting for Geoff. Twilight gave a quick nod to Geoff as he began a sprint towards Ponyville, following the pegasus. He moved with incredible speed despite the weight he carried. Even he was surprised he could move that fast, mainly because of his age.

Ponyville Marketplace

Midnight

Geoff arrived with the pegasus to the scene. He saw that all of the ponies had become thoroughly comfortable with his friends. They were all chattering about the attack and how cool it looked. They already called them “heroes” as each began to build their little fanbase. Ponies took individual liking to each Hunter and asked them many questions. Were they afraid? Did any of them get hurt? How many humans are there? He saw the remnants of the now-slain timberwolves strewn about the marketplace. That's when Geoff made his entrance by stepping off of the roof he stood on. When he landed, the attention of the crowd slowly directed towards Geoff. He walked towards his friends. The crowd made way for Geoff until the rest of the Crew noticed him. Gavin had a smiling Pipsqueak on his shoulders and Michael finished shaking the townspeople’s hooves to talk to Geoff. Geoff looked around at the smiling faces and sighed.

“You all know how dumb and reckless this was, right guys?” The Crew’s smiles faded, as did the crowd. "Showing yourselves to these ponies? Fighting an unknown force?" Just before the crowd could hate Geoff for being a buzzkill, Geoff spoke again after a sigh, “Since I wouldn't have let you all go help, I'm glad I wasn't there to stop you from being reckless. Good work, guys.” Geoff smiled and gathered his friends for a meaningful group hug. The crowd made a uniform “aww” until Ray broke away from the group first.

“We know you love us, Geoff, but I don't swing like you guys.” The group all broke the hug as well, muttering jokes along the same lines. The crowd slowly returned to asking questions and getting to know their new heroes. Geoff stood outside the crowd, watching his friends bask in their fame. They were famous back on their world, minor celebrities really. But they were never truly thanked for saving lives. Geoff didn't really care about the spotlight. Time in the military teaches you that. He just wanted the deeds done from the heart. He knew that despite their boredom, the Crew had done this good deed for the sake of the ponies. Geoff was awoken from his train of thought when Twilight spoke next him.

“So I guess all of that work on introducing them to the town went to waste?” She smiled. She was glad that her expectations of Ponyville were not only met, but exceeded.

“I guess so.” Geoff said, “but we should have it be a formal thing, don't you think?” Twilight immediately responded.

“Oh of course! I'll have to talk with the mayor again about the change of plans.” Twilight grimaced, “Oh, I hope she won't be annoyed by the sudden change.” Geoff smiled and rolled his eyes at Twilight’s personality of being a stickler about schedules and promises. After tonight, the Crew would be widely accepted in Ponyville. Not having such a welcome for their potential saviors would be rude at best. This was considering the Crew actually behaved themselves, which they did and some. At the remembrance of the time, Twilight yawned. “Well, I'm going back to the castle to sleep. I suggest you and your friends sleep as well. You have to see the town in a normal setting starting tomorrow.” Twilight trotted her way to the castle, too sleepy to fly.

Geoff pushed through the crowd of ponies to his friends and called for them to return to the castle, letting them know that they'll have the next few days to socialize with the citizens. With a few disappointed “aww”s from the ponies, they bid the humans goodnight. The walk back to the castle was in relative silence, since ponies were returning to their homes still saying their goodnights. Geoff broke the sleep-deprived silence with one comment that lead to chuckles and retelling of their stories of their first battle with timberwolves not thirty minutes ago.

“Why didn't you guys save any wolves for me?” Geoff asked.

“Because we knew you wouldn't save any for us if you were there.” Gavin said, throwing his arm around Geoff’s shoulder.

Chapter 7: The Stage is Set

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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.

“Really?”

“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.

Chapter 8: And the Show Begins

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Castle of Friendship

Present time, 10 pm

The surrounding wilderness swayed and rustled lightly under Luna’s lambent moon. Animals scurried here and there, finding an ideal den to build. Late night dew lightly clung onto fall’s green and orange leaves from nearby trees. All was at peace within the wild. That is, until a low, rhythmic thumping began to shake the trees adjacent to the castle. These thumps were, in fact, being emitted from the refracting Castle of Friendship.

From within the castle, loud music shockwaved through the halls. Large groups of ponies dotted the castle’s enormous ballroom with the center being the dance floor. Much of Ponyville’s population jumped on the opportunity to further their welcome to the ones the party was for. Upon a balcony, the town’s best disc jockey DJ Pon3 was blasting EDM music at a high volume, emitting the ruckus as heard from the forest. Many ponies danced, some drank, some ate, but nopony was doing nothing.

The Mane 6 were in full attendance. Pinkie Pie, being the ringleader of the party, needed to attend to ensure the Achievement Hunters’ gained full merriment. Michael, Gavin, and Ray all grouped to the dance floor. They were joined by Rainbow, Rarity, and Pinkie. Although the Hunters weren't the best dancers, their mediocre movements were enough to pull even the shyest ponies off the wall and on the floor by the sight of raw fun. Ryan and Jack were in a corner playing darts with Applejack, Big Mac, and a crowd of ponies. Many ponies had taken a particular liking to Ryan since the other night. Lastly, Geoff spent his night nearest to the drink and food tables accompanied by Fluttershy and Twilight, who were all looking for a night as simple as it could get in their current setting.

“Isn't there food that isn't all sugar?” Geoff said in annoyance, holding a piece of cake on his fork. Twilight stifled a laugh.

“If a party doesn't have a potentially deadly amount of sweets, then it isn't a Pinkie party.” Twilight said, taking another small bite of cake. Geoff scoffed and lifted a small tankard to his lips. Once done with his third drink, he placed the tankard down with the other two tankards.

“Umm.. I don't want to be rude and uh.. tell you what to do,” Fluttershy spoke for the first time that night, “but, don't you think you've had.. enough?” Geoff only had the three tankards and the apple buckers from earlier. The tankards were smaller than they should be back on Earth, so the drinks hardly did anything to him.

“Trust me, Fluttershy,” Geoff said standing up, “I can handle way more than those little mugs.” Geoff sauntered back to the drinks table. He picked up another tankard and returned to the table. “And why don't you have one?” Geoff smirked at Fluttershy. The yellow winged pony only flushed and hid herself behind her hair. Geoff chuckled and took another drink. “I'm guessing you're a calm that hides a storm.”

“More like hiding a hurricane!” Rainbow yelled over the music from right behind Geoff. Fluttershy hid herself even more if she even could. Rainbow reached out with her hoof at Geoff’s drink. “Can I?” Geoff motioned his hand, allowing her permittance to have his drink. He felt content anyways. “Thanks, man. Dancing with your friends over there really works up a thirst.” Rainbow slowly drank the entire tankard in one go, then slammed it back onto the table. She then flew back to the dance floor to continue her merrymaking. Geoff leaned over the table towards Twilight to say something.

“So you said she's from a town that's in the sky?” Geoff thumbed in the direction Rainbow flew off to. Twilight stopped another piece of cake from entering her mouth.

“Indeed.” Twilight placed the cake back down onto the plate, “She and Fluttershy come from Cloudsdale.” Fluttershy began to reveal her face once more from behind her pink curtain. “They went to flight school together. That's how they met.” Geoff nodded his head slowly. He turned to Fluttershy, who was still a bit recluse behind her hair about the drinking. “Well, I'd like to go there sometime. Sounds interesting. It's not every day that you see a city of clouds.”

“And in your world,” Twilight asked, “there are no cities like Cloudsdale?” Geoff laughed.

“If you mean cities that fly, you'll be very disappointed to know that all of our cities are on the ground.” Twilight gave an inquisitive ‘hmm’ as she poked at her chin.

“Could you give us some examples of big cities where your from?”

“If you say so.” Geoff said beginning to think, “There's Austin, where my friends and I are from. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, Miam-” Geoff was cut off by Twilight and Fluttershy snickering. He could see it, but couldn't hear it due to the music. “What's so funny?”

“Well,” Fluttershy said, “‘Las Vegas’ sounds like a funny name to give to a city. It's because we have a city called Las Pegasus and that sounds more normal than Las Vegas.” She continued to snicker.

“You're serious?” Geoff laughed, “Las fucking Pegasus. Now that's ridiculous. It sounds like a name my daughter would give to a make-belief town while playing with her toys. The closest humans got to naming something on Earth as a pun was the Isle of Man.”

“Okay, when you put it like that,” Twilight said, still snickering, “our worlds seem to have quite the differences yet somehow share similarities. Your Isle of Man is kind of like our Isle of Mare.”

The table continued thinking of cities and towns they believed to be amusing to each other. In the meantime, the party raged on. The ponies all seemed to gravitate to their new human friends. For another couple hours, ponies danced, talked, drank, and so on. Once the party had concluded, the ponies left almost en masse. Once gone, the Mane 6 and the Crew were all that remained. They all sat around the table Twilight, Fluttershy, and Geoff had been conversing at. Confetti, streamers, various sweets and drinks were strewn about the ballroom. Jack felt a little bit bad.

“I guess we should start cleaning up?” Jack said aloud.

“Yeah, good idea,” Ryan agreed, “Hey Twilight, where is your cleaning stuff?” Twilight opened her mouth to say something but was cut off by a blaring Pinkie Pie.

“Oh don't worry your pretty little heads about it,” Pinkie jumped to the middle of the ballroom. “I threw the party, so I clean the mess!” Pinkie brought out box from her curled locks and set it on the floor.

“Isn't this a lot to clean up for-” Jack said before Pinkie pressed a lone button on the top of the box. It flung open and a hose shot itself out. It began to pull in streamers, confetti, food, and pretty much everything else party related. It pulled things into its small opening that would be way too small for a normal hose. Once about five seconds of the hose’s cleaning, it receded back into the box and the box closed. The ballroom was as clean as it was when the decorating began. Pinkie wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead.

“Whew, that took longer than it should have.” She took the box and stuffed it back into her messy hair and hopped back to the table. The Crew, except Michael, were in awe at what they had just witnessed. The Mane 6 were amused to see newcomers be astounded by Pinkie's unorthodox methods. Ryan was the first to break their silence.

“But… how?”

“Dude,” Michael said leaned on the back two legs of his chair and his feet on the table, “don't even ask.”

“I couldn't have said it better.” Twilight said, laughing with the other girls at the Crew’s still dumbfounded expressions.

“Where'd you get one of those, Pinkie?” Gavin said jokingly, “Think I need one o’ them for my desk.”

“Oh silly,” Pinkie said shaking her head, “I can't just tell you. What fun would that be?”

“Bollocks. That could have been helpful, eh Geoff?” Gavin said to his right where Geoff sat hunched over.

“Your desk?” Geoff began, “Fuck you, what about the rest of the building?”

“To be fair, the whole building is a shit show as it is so I think it'd suck up literally everything.” Michael said, putting emphasis into the final word of the sentence. The Crew laughed a bit at Michael's inside joke. At least, it was an inside one to the Mane 6 as they sat in silence while the men had their chuckles. Once the laughing subsided, Rainbow spoke next.

“Hey, what are we going to do in the meantime while the princesses look for that spell or whatever it is.”

“It’s a rune.” Twilight corrected, “And the library within the castle at Cantorlot is not exactly small. So for the time being, we just have to wait.”

“What if Sombra tries something?” Fluttershy said softly, “I mean, he was able to escape Tartarus without being seen. What if he looks for the elements?”

“If he does attack,” Twilight said with assurance in her voice to comfort the group, “I'm sure we're all more than ready to handle it. The rune can be put on hold, but Sombra cannot.” Geoff still feels frustration that him and the guys getting home is not the priority. Although, he always shoots down his own argument when he remembers that going home before they destroy the threat will not solve anything. Sombra will still go on to destroy everything because…?

“Twilight?” Geoff inquired, sitting up.

“Yes, Geoff?” Twilight responded.

“What’s his deal anyways?”

“Sombra?” Geoff nodded. The rest of the Crew were immediately drawn to the question as they hadn’t even considered Sombra’s intentions. “Well, it's quite a tale really. Before my and all current mortals of Equestria’s births, Sombra ruled the Crystal Empire. According to historic texts and personal accounts of Celestia and Luna themselves, he was actually an excellent ruler. He cared for his subjects first and himself last, something Celestia and Luna didn't understand at the time. He would eliminate large scale problems while in front of his troops, not from behind them. Cadence, being born near the end of his natural life, would succeed his position of royalty. Sombra, although, believed otherwise and pleaded for the Royal Sisters to give him time to find a way for him to hold his rightful position.

“So he set out looking for magical means of extending his life and, in his mind, immortality. In his search over three decades, he had found what he was looking for. He had gained immortality from a sentient, magical force from what he called a ‘fountain of youth.’ This fountain had been an incredibly dark force that couldn't be contained any further. Sombra bargained with the entity, trading his own body as a vessel for it while regaining his youth forever. Returning to the Crystal Empire, he was shunned by its people for using such dark means to extend his life. The Sisters attempted to subdue him, but hatred for them had already took hold of his heart. He lashed out and nearly killed them both. Before re-usurping his place as King, Cadence stepped forth to stop him.

“Using the Crystal Heart, she had removed as much strength from him as the heart could contain. Surprised by his survival, Cadence banished him to the Frozen North, never to return. From this act, Cadence was transformed into the alicorn we see today.”

The Crew remained silent. Evil had corrupted such a pure mind and heart. They began to wonder if that same loving king still resided within. Again, they only thought of home. Their families and friends’ faces passed through their heads one by one. Seeing innocence in each face only encouraged them to destroy such a threat by any means necessary. If they cannot stop Sombra, then they are unsure if anyone else will.

“Oooh,” Pinkie cooed with popcorn in between her hooves, “I always love that story! It's so sad, but it's always a hoot to hear Twilight tell one of those old stories!”

“I mean, the story could use more action, maybe?” Rainbow groaned in boredom.

“Yes, darling. The story seemed fairly umm… bleak?” Rarity winced on the last word of her sentence.

“It's not a story!” Twilight announced, frustrated, “It was a historical event that we're now paying for.”

“But wait,” Michael interrupted, “you said you banished him to Tartarus before, right?” The Mane 6 nodded in near unison. “Well I'm pretty sure you all sent him there ‘cause he was that big of a problem, right?” All but Twilight nodded agreed out loud again as she began thinking about the whole ordeal. Then she lightly gasped at understanding. Michael smirked, knowing she would understand first.

“He's not as weak as we thought!” Twilight began to worry. “And if Tartarus couldn't hold him, then he may be more of a problem than when we initially dealt with his schemes.”

“Well then we just gotta not underestimate him.” Ray spoke up. “Have the guards and nobles of the other cities to report to you or Celestia if shit goes down.”

“Hmm,” Twilight pondered, “I'll have to discuss this with the princesses in person. Until we know Sombra’s plan for sure, we need to keep all of this talk between each other and in private only. We don't need to scare anypony. Not only will it cause panic, but Sombra may capitalize. Understood, everypony?”

The Mane 6 and the Crew all conversed in agreement. Applejack was the first to take leave as her farm would need tending in the morning. The rest of the ponies dispersed to their own homes and Twilight to her room. With the party long over and the ballroom dead silent the Crew were all that remained. None of them felt fatigued or sleepy in any way. Geoff felt the nape of his neck begin to tighten. To relieve it from the heavy lack of noise, he spoke to his friends.

“Hey, guys.” They all looked in his direction, “Let’s not worry about all that. If all we do is worry and be scared, we won't be able to help when it's needed.” The Crew remained silent for several seconds. The pain continued to grow on Geoff’s neck and he was about ready to get up and leave to his room to, hopefully, sleep off all that they had talked about. Also to sleep on what Applejack had said to him earlier. She gave Geoff some much needed assurance. Then Ryan chuckled, followed by laughter.

“Wot’s so funny, Ryan?” Gavin said, his solemn visage giving way to a smile due to Ryan's contagious laughter. His laughter began to die down.

“Did you guys see when the big, red, guy pony?” Ryan snapped his fingers in Michael’s direction, “What’s his name? Big something?” Gavin giggled to himself childishly.

“The only one with a Big Somethin here is yours truly.” Gavin said standing up and gesturing to his crotch. Jack scanned Gavin from head to toe quickly with his eyes.

“A big nose, yeah.” Jack confirmed. They all laughed until Michael was able to control himself enough to answer.

“Big Macintosh is his name, Ryan.” Michael rubbed the light tears that were forming in his eyes from the laughter.

“Yeah, Big Mac, or whatever.” Ryan acknowledged, letting his own laughter die down.

“Bet Jack could go for ten ‘o them right about now.” A pouting, but grinning, Gavin said sitting down again.

“So he threw one of the darts at the dart board.” Ryan continued his story, “But I guess he was so totalled from the drinks that he was seeing two dart boards or some shit. When he threw it, the fucking thing nailed some other pony in the ass. They started yelling and screaming.” The Crew rose back into giggles at Ryan’s reenactment of the story, but he put a finger up. “That's not the funny part. Jack knows what I'm talking about. It's when he said ‘Did I get it, sis?’ that Jack and I lost it.” The Crew only remained at the chuckle they started with, other than Jack who recalled the event. “Ah it's one of those things you gotta have been there for.”

The Crew felt like the weight had been lifted. They talked about the night and their interactions with the ponies at different points of the night. Once the stories had run dry, they decided to head off to bed for some much needed rest.

Three weeks later

The Crew had thoroughly settled into the small town within a the week. The ponies all knew them better and they knew most of the ponies. Each Hunter took it upon themselves to find something to do as they waited for Canterlot’s response to the spell or for Sombra to make a move. Gavin had gone to volunteer assistance with Cheerilee in the school. Since most of the colts and fillies didn't see the Hunters at the induction ceremony, most were in shock. But it all turned to excitement sooner rather than later. The Crusaders were especially excited.

Ray decided to join Geoff on Sweet Apple Acres. Instead of bucking the apples off the branches like the rest of the Apple family, they instead used their new abilities to retrieve apples in better quality. With intense speed and accuracy, Geoff and Ray could work an entire field on their own. They learned to bail the hay, when and how to feed the many animals on the farm, and even bottling their own apple buckers for later.

Michael spent his time at Fluttershy’s cottage, helping her take care of the critters that found their way there for assistance. The animals were wary of Michael at the start, but eased their defensive nature after the first week. Obedience within the cottage was a cinch. With Fluttershy’s Stare and Michael’s ability to raise his voice when needed, they made the best team when they'd get a rowdy bunch of animals.

Finally, Ryan and Jack heavy lifted and baked sweets at Sugarcube Corner with Pinkie Pie. She would host one birthday party for Pipsqueak within this time. Ryan and Jack did most of the heavy lifting when it came to deliveries of ingredients and party supplies. During the parties, Ryan and Jack would mostly sit behind the counter with Mr. Cake for any customers wanting to buy sweets.

Everything went on without a hitch. Then one work day when all parties were well busy, Twilight had Rainbow to quickly notify the Crew and remaining Mane 6 to rally at her castle with haste. Once grouped in front of the castle where the Crew first set foot in Ponyville, everyone wondered what was wrong.

“What’s wrong, Twilight?” Michael said, slowing his run to a stop in front of her. Fluttershy followed behind and was out of breath. “Sorry we're late. We were in Everfree with Zecora getting medicine for the animals.”

“No foolin’” Rainbow said, “you could've left a note or something on the door.” Michael only shrugged. Before anything else could be said, Twilight spoke.

“I'm glad you all could make it this late in the day. But I have good news and bad news. I'll start with bad news first. Sombra is making quite the move.”

“Wow, so soon?” Ryan said, surprised.

“I thought it was quick as well.” Twilight agreed, “He seems to be moving a large force in the direction of Manehattan from the north.”

“How big is the force?” Geoff added seriously.

“I'm not sure,” Twilight grimaced, “but it is large enough to be heard from outside the city. The force was first detected when they turned Fillydelphia upside down. An alert pegasus survived the attack and informed Celestia and Luna. With that, they ordered me to gather you all here for a chariots arrival to Canterlot.”

“Wait,” Fluttershy inquired quietly, “do you mean ‘survived’ as in Sombra's…” Twilight nodded her head.

“Yes. He's not messing around this time. He's actually killing ponies.” The Mane 6 contained expressions of shock. In contrast, the Crew seemed a bit indifferent about the killing, but worried about the ponies there at Manehattan.

“So why aren't we cuttin' them off at Manehattan, then?” Gavin questioned.

“Yeah, I think I'm with Gavin on this one too.” Jack said with a thumb stuck out in Gavin’s direction.

“I'm not sure.” Twilight mused, wondering that same thought as well, “But we shouldn't doubt the princesses orders.” She opened the case harboring the Elements of Harmony and placed each necklace and crown on their respectful pony. A chariot, much like the first used to bring the Crew to Ponyville, came speeding from the clouds above and landed gracefully behind the Crew and Mane 6. “I'm pretty sure they will explain everything once we arrive.”

After mounting the chariot, the pegasi pulling the chariot sped off towards Canterlot. On the way, Michael perked up and spoke in Twilight’s direction.

“Twilight, you said there was also good news?”

“Oh, right!” Twilight scolded herself for forgetting, “the guards at Canterlot have found the book containing the rune to potentially send you all home.” She and the Mane 6 smiled, hoping to get an excited reaction from the Crew. They remained focused and unmoved. Twilight and her friends smiles melted. “What’s wrong, you guys? Aren't you guys happy they found it?”

“Don't let us fool you,” Jack said monotonously, “we're glad they found it. But what's the point of going home if it's still in danger of being destroyed?” The Mane 6 felt gloom overcome them. Before it could fully engulf them, Jack spoke once more. “But if we can help it, we will. We're not just gonna let some guy stomp on our world or yours.” He widely smiled.

Contagious of it, the Mane 6 returned their smiles to him. Gavin groaned teasingly.

“Could you make it any more cheesy, Jack?”

Canterlot Castle Throne Room

Twenty minutes later

“Do you all understand what must be done?” Celestia finished. The Royal Sisters had taken on the act of equipping full armor from their hooves up to their necks. The Crew had grown anxious these past few weeks. They wanted a crack at Sombra and his plans. The Mane 6, on the other hand, had not been too excited about facing Sombra, especially so soon.

“So where are these airships you two promised?” Geoff questioned.

“They are being prepped for combat as we speak.” Luna added, “They were repurposed and used only for parade purposes since Tempest Shadow had used them to dock in Canterlot six moons ago.” Michael racked his brain for the name Tempest. It seemed like a name he could remember easily, but didn't sound at all familiar. “Although they have been decommissioned, they retain their attack capabilities. Air superiority is of utmost importance.” She stamped her hoof with authority.

“Because I can trust no other,” Celestia spoke again, “and she is by far the best strategist of all of my generals, Luna will accompany you in your defense of Manehattan.” Luna seemed to stand taller at her sister’s flattering words. “She will oversee all combat operations. Because you six have now become citizens of Equestria, her word is law to you. I pray you will heed her orders.”

“We will.” Geoff said sternly. The Crew oozed with confidence and determination. Their first encounter with Sombra could probably be their only one. Meaning they either rip his atoms and magical presence apart, or die trying.

“Excellent.” Celestia nodded, “Now, sister, guide them to the docks to board the airships. Take only the Nightingale, Restless, Dreamwalker, and the skiffs provided. The rest remains here for Canterlot’s defense. I'm sorry I could not spare more. Make due with what you have.”

“That is more than enough, sister.” Luna smirked, sure of herself and her sister. She stepped down from the thrones and waved the Mane 6 and Crew along. “Come. We mustn't dawdle.”

Luna lead the twelve at a running pace through the halls of Canterlot. Once outdoors and crossing a high rise bridge, they could see the docks. Large platforms suspended by curved supports attached to the same mountain that cradled Canterlot itself.

Three airships of near identical indigo and white design floated in their respective ports. On one side of each hollow blimp was painted the seal of the Royal Sisters. Each blimp measured about five hundred feet in length and about two hundred and fifty feet in width. The blimps looked as if they were carrying a large galleon beneath it. On the sterns of the ships, thrusters could be seen warming up for greater acceleration and velocity. Moored to the dock, the airships had ponies of all three races moving glowing ammunition crates and turrets onto the floating fortresses.

They hurried down a tower’s spiral staircase at the end of the bridge to reach the dock’s ground level. Once on the dock, they slowed to a brisk walk. Luna began to give orders.

“Twilight, take the Elements to the Dreamwalker. That ship will remain in the rear of the leading two. We mustn’t lose the Elements, so you must protect them at all costs. Knight Geoff?” Geoff was startled by being called “knight.” Regardless, he responded.

“Yes, ma'am?”

“You take your colleagues to the Restless. Do not engage in ground combat until we… err I, and only I, give the order.” Luna corrected her old ponish. “There will be a green flare, that is your signal. Once then, jump overboard and seek Sombra. Once you have found him, use this.” She levitated a small flare gun with an abnormally large trigger obviously for a pony’s hoof. It landed softly in Geoff’s palm. “Use it only if Sombra is present. Understood?”

“Crystal.” Geoff placed the gun to his waist on a hook.

“Now then, I will take my place on the Nightingale. My sister has sent word to the Crystal Empire to spare their one airship if possible. We may be receiving support in the midst of battle, so do not be alarmed by a fourth airship. Are there any questions?” The twelve remained silent looking amongst each other for wandering concerns. None seemed present. “Then, to your ships. We will disembark in ten minutes.”

With that, the large group dispersed. When the Mane 6 mounted their ship, they all noticed the large device in the center of the deck. The device is reminiscent of a Tesla tower on Earth.Twilight didn't give much attention to it, already knowing it's function. She did, however explain to her obviously confused friends its purpose.

“That device is called a Foreign Projectile Wave Disruptor, or FopWad for short. It's meant to shield points of importance from, well, foreign projectiles. The larger the object is it’s protecting, the longer the wavelengths of mana. This means smaller objects, like ponies, can pass through. But larger objects and all magical attacks can be swallowed as energy by the FopWad.”

“Riiiight,” Rainbow said, uninterested, “So I'm assuming it's here to protect us from anything big, right?”

“That,” Twilight added more to Rainbow's assumption, “and if things go south, this'll protect the ship as we escape.”

At that moment, a white flare ejected from the center Nightingale’s bow away from the mountain. The mooring ropes were tossed and the airships were set free to mobilize. Nightingale lead with Restless lagging behind at Nightingale’s portside. The thrusters fired up with amethyst flames from the two galleons and they advanced. Once they gained a four hundred yard head start, the Dreamwalker began its own propulsion.

The three ships moved into formation with the Restless and Nightingale forward and the Dreamwalker behind as planned. The turrets and large anti air cannons were still being fastened and connected to the feed system of the ship. By the time they would reach Manehattan, all final preparations would be long over.

Five miles outside Manehattan

Two hours after disembarkment

Defenses on all three airships had been set. The airship crew members took their battle stations. Luna had informed each ship with a comms pegasus to be on guard as they passed over Fillydelphia as straggling umbrums may have stayed behind to occupy it. The ships began to drift over what was left of Fillydelphia. The city was silent. Only abandoned buildings and wildfires dotted the once bustling city. Spears of dark mana could be found in many places throughout the streets and buildings. Pinned with some of the spears were bystanders and the occasional royal guard.

It was a scene that all of the ponies, except Luna, had to begin getting used to. It sickened everypony to see this being done. The Crew only winced at the sights when they were most brutal. It’s like the city reeked of iron. Once passed over the ghost town, Manehattan’s skyline came into view over the barren grasslands. Before the city, was a dark cloud. A pitch black shadow blanketed the ground underneath the cloud. As they neared the slow moving cloud, its shape became apparently clear. This cloud just so happened to be a swarm of changelings. The shadow they casted ended up being around a battalion or two of umbrums.

“That's a lot of shit for just three airships.” Geoff worried, leaning over the railing with his closest friends. One of the ship’s lieutenants looked over Geoff’s shoulder to view the myriad of changelings and umbrums. He scoffed.

“Bah. The Restless alone could easily handle rabble like that.” Geoff hadn't realized until he turned his head to catch a glimpse of the stallion behind him that the stallion had surpassed him in height. Although Geoff appeared to be unphased by the robust bronco’s size, he almost gasped at the size difference.

“And how do you know that?” Geoff questioned. Geoff knew these ponies hadn't seen real, deadly combat in hundreds of years. He was simply curious of the stallion’s response.

“I may be unsure of the capabilities of the ship itself, but I am completely aware of the firepower aboard. From every turret to every sword, I am confident I've trained these ponies well enough where I wouldn't mind charging into battle with them.”

Geoff admired the lieutenant’s faith in his own men and nodded to the lieutenant in approval. Even if he hasn't seen them fight a real fight, he couldn't argue. He looked down the line of his own friends in front of him who were also leaning over the railing. Who would be the first to crack? Gavin? Jack? Michael? Himself? Geoff was pretty sure the same thing clouded the lieutenant pony’s mind under his confident appearance.

Geoff startled awake from his thoughts at the sound of the Nightingale. A red flare fired from its bow in the direction of the swarms of changelings and umbrums. The airships began to descend from above cloud level to become visible to the dark force. Geoff had turned to see behind himself. Not only was the lieutenant gone and giving orders to his scrambling soldiers, but a forcefield had engulfed the Dreamwalker and began to slow itself to remain out of immediate combat.

From the changelings and umbrums perspective, they could begin to hear the pounding of high caliber magical armaments being discharged at slow rates. Mana blasts began to carpet the grassland the umbrums walked. Large plumes of cartoonishly purple smoke dotted the airspace around the Restless and Nightingale from the anti-air weapons armed on each ship.

Changelings fell from the sky one by one. Umbrums scattered on the grounds as to not bunch up. The changelings, although, were not defenseless. Between their wings was a device strapped with barrel-like tubes jutting from their sides. Using batteries charged with unstable mana, these devices acted as a small arms repeater. More effective against troops and not airships, the changelings began targeting the crews of both ships.

The Crew had ducked behind the railing as soon as the changelings began firing on the airships crew members. Jack decided to take initiative and summoned his shield, creating a barrier opposite of the railing to nearly cover them entirely.

“Alright, we're covered!” Jack said loudly over the the sounds of gunfire emitting from the ship and the changelings’ weapons. “Now what?!” Geoff looked over Jack’s shoulder. Some changelings began to land onto the deck. The short barrels of the devices on their backs retracted and was replaced by a long, gnarled blade of an obsidian color in place of each barrel. Some of the crew noticed this and picked up spears, swords, hammers, and anything they could find to defend against the pests. The two sides clashed violently.

“I guess until the signal,” Geoff said loud enough so all of his friends could hear, “we should probably keep those assholes off the ship!”

“Do we kill them?!” Ryan asked, barely able to top the loud turrets along the rails. Geoff let his eyes wander over the deck. Few crew members laid mutilated, dead, and/or dying across the wooden floor. Geoff returned to his awaiting friends.

“Yeah. They're not playing nice, so neither should we. Help in any way you can, even if it means jumping on one of those guns we got. But when that signal for us goes off, we meet back here, cool?!” His friends all nodded once, bravery filling their pupils as they each split off into groups of two as they trained. Ray and Gavin split to the bow end, Ryan and Michael to the stern, all with their weapons drawn.

Geoff remained with Jack. Both drew their own weapons as Jack lowered the energy from the shield.

“Jack, you and I are going to help pull the injured below deck. Got it?” Geoff yelled, advancing quickly.

“Got it.” Jack said, keeping to Geoff’s back.

Geoff could see the Nightingale fared no better than the Restless. Changelings boarding the airship, the faint image of Luna fighting them off as best she could with her elite crew passed Geoff’s eyes. All he could do was hope the signal would come soon, and that his boys would stay safe.

Chapter 9: Battle for Manehattan

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Five miles outside Manehattan

The rocking of the ship from its own firepower unbalanced Michael and Ryan’s speed. When a group of seven changelings attempted to stop them from reaching the stern, they were somewhat excited by an intelligent set of combatants. In total contrast to the timberwolves, the changelings fought in no less than pairs to compensate for their fragile, but agile physique.

At great speeds, three attacked Ryan and four to Michael. Ryan spun with his arms extended and at an upward angle, each spin an axe digging itself into and shattering a changeling ribcage hurling them up and off the ship. Michael had only one sword drawn, but believed it would be enough to dispatch the small group of changelings. He slipped under the first two that charged him in the air and shoulder checked the remaining two. Propelled several yards back, the changelings would be dealt with soon. He returned his attention to the two he avoided. They hissed in frustration.

“Right back at you, assholes.” Michael said, hoping it would egg them on and be reckless.

“You got this right?” Ryan said, stanced to help Michael.

“Yeah, just get to the back of the ship.” Michael drew his second sword to replace Ryan’s absence. “I can handle this.” Ryan gave Michael a nod and leapt upward and climbed to a low overhang jutting from the ship’s command deck. This way Ryan could get to the stern without drawing attention.

Michael twirled the swords in each hand, waiting for the next changeling attack. When they charged, he heard the other two he shouldered now recovered and advancing on his position as well. Mid-twirl, he reversed his grip on the sword in his right hand and spun once quickly. The blades followed through the first changeling from each side only to embed themselves into the shoulder blades of the second. They screeched in pain as a purple ooze dripped from the wounds. They knelt from the inability to use one of their front hooves anymore.

Michael withdrew his swords from their bodies. He almost felt remorseful for them when he saw the path his blades took through the first pair of changelings. A clean cut had been made in between the jaws of their two brethren, lopping the top half of their heads clean off. Michael’s hand twitched for a moment, almost losing his composure. But then one of the changelings spoke.

“If you don't kill me now,” he hissed with a grim smile, “I'm going to kill your friends in worse ways than you killed my brothers.” Without a second more, the changeling was dead before he knew it. Michael had instinctively swiped the changeling’s head from his body with his sword as the divider. With the other changeling in submission, it only hissed as Michael drove the sword under the chin and through the skull. The death of all four were quick. Too quick, some might say. But Michael retained the audacity and kindness to end a life quickly to save them from the suffering and fear if your life draining from the mortal realm.

Pulling the sword from the now deceased changeling, he decided to continue to the stern, not wanting to give too much thought to his actions for the greater good.

~

Ray and Gavin had split from the group to assist where most of the fighting was. Ray felt out of his element, fighting packs and swarms of changelings at once. Thrusts of his estoc struck many changelings, but never truly did fatal damage. Geoff’s words echoed in his head giving him strength to attack with lethal force and accuracy. Gavin perched himself onto the roof of one of the ship’s cabins, launching arrow after arrow to the many changelings zipping through the skies. Occasionally, he would turn his attention to Ray and offer support to his fight.

Underneath Gavin within the cabin, many of the medical corps on the ship remained behind a slightly ajar door, trying to assist their fallen comrades. Any time a medic attempted run out to pull one of their own back to the door and into sick bay, they would be met by a plethora of magical bullets, suppressing their attempts and thus killing their comrade. Luckily, none had been hit just yet, but their commanding officer has ordered them to remain indoors until the opportunity presented itself.

Ray had already noticed this. He leaned back and used the force to kick a changeling he had been fighting hard and overboard. He sprinted towards the ajar door. Slipping inside, the medical corps were startled, thinking it was a changeling. They sighed relief to realize it was only Ray.

“Hey, I see you guys are trying to help your friends out there.” Ray looked among the grouping of medical ponies to see very collected faces. Behind them, more wounded were being brought in by several medics from the direction of the stern. The commanding officer(CO), a clean looking, tangerine stallion with a deep blue mane, spoke on their behalf.

“Yes, but we have no means of protection. The soldiers are too busy defending the ship to worry about defending us.” Ray could see the desire to assist in all of the medics eyes. They wanted to help all of those maimed and/or dying. He knew what he could do to help, but wasn't sure if it was enough. Ray told the truth so that he may retain confidence but not lose sight to arrogance.

“Look, I can try to protect one of you at a time. I can't guarantee your safety-”

“We know the risks.” A medic said from the group of about fifteen stallions and mares just like her. “Just bring any of them to us and we'll do our best.” The mare’s smile reassured Ray, even though he didn't show it. Her zeal was in perfect balance with her and Ray’s expectations.

“Alright,” Ray said, peeking out to the battle-ridden deck, “who volunteers to go?” The same mare that spoke before raised her hoof immediately. Ray gestured for her to come to him.

“The rest of you,” the medical CO said loudly to his unit, “get the infirmary preped for more incoming wounded on the double!” The remaining medics saluted and proceeded to rush around the sick bay, moving dollies full of supplies and medical instruments to different areas. Cots would be set up for those pulled in last or those who are not severely injured.

Ray took a good look at the mare to remember who he is protecting. A unicorn with a blonde mane in a messy bun with a light cream coat with eyes glazed emerald. Medical scrubs hugged closely to her below average frame.

“Look, uh…” Ray twirled his wrist in a questioning manner trying to get her to reveal her name.

“Corporal Keen Heart, at your service.” The mare said with a salute.

“Right. Keen, if we're going to do this, you can't go out like that. If they see that uniform, they're going to overwhelm me just to kill you.” Keen bit her hoof, thinking of a solution.

“Oh! I know!” she enthused after a few seconds, “I can run down to the armory, get a set of light armor, just enough to look like a soldier. They'll think I'm just some random drone and won't pay special attention to me.” Ray peeked out the door again to assess the situation on the top deck. Many on both sides were injured. Changelings and Equestrian soldiers lay randomly strewn about the deck, blood of red and purple mixing to make an almost black substance. Despite this, no side seemed to be apparently losing.

“Alright,” Ray said, still peeking, “but be real quick. Remember that the more ponies we save the more attention we're going to draw to us so we have to be fast.”

“Yes sir!” She said sternly, like a soldier. She bolted through the large infirmary and into a far door to reach the bowls of the airship where the armory was located.

~

Gavin had been fruitful in defending the bow with the other soldiers on the large air defense guns. Changelings began to thin in the air as many decided to either land on the Restless or to attack her from the bilge. There were still turrets underneath the Restless, but they have been preoccupied by the umbrum army’s magical attacks from the ground since the assault began. These turrets were not built for air-to-air combat. A skilled gunner, however, can use these weapons effectively against any enemy, on the ground or otherwise.

As straggling changelings regrouped with others from the stern for a second wave against the bow, Gavin glanced down towards the bow’s deck. He saw Ray sidestepping alongside what looked like another soldier, as if shielding her. It was then that a stray changeling dove towards Ray, passing Gavin, and began unloading his ammunition reserve onto Ray and the soldier pony. Many shots missed entirely. Occasionally, one or three shots would find its way towards Ray or the pony. Ray, with small flicks of his estoc, would swat these extremely fast moving projectiles in all directions with exquisite sparks blending their colors with reds and oranges of Celestia’s setting sun.

When the small barrage had ended, Gavin could see that the soldier pony Ray was protecting had thrown an injured Equestrian soldier onto her back. Ray and the pony slowly began to escort the injured soldier back towards the cabin Gavin stood upon. The changeling that had tried to gun them down was surprised, to say the least. Before it could break off and alarm a swarm, Gavin took aim and let fly an arrow. The arrow curved its path behind the changeling, severing the joints that connected its wings to the changeling’s back. The wings gently floated downward now disconnected from its host, while the latter plummeted to the earth.

Ray gave a thumbs up to Gavin’s direction while keeping his eyes to the skies. A few other changelings attempted strafe runs on Ray, only to have their attacks be deflected by Ray and then neutralized entirely by Gavin. This rhythm took hold in their defense of Keen as the process was repeated over and over for her and Ray to keep retrieving more injured. Once all of the alive Equestrian soldiers on the bow were safely below, she insisted to her CO to retrieve the injured changelings. Hesitant, the CO allowed it, but requested these injured to be restrained during the process of treatment.

Accepting the compromise, Keen, Ray, and Gavin repeated the same process as before but for the changelings. At this point, it was much easier to transport changelings since they were lighter than normal ponies, and many less were in the skies thanks to Gavin and the anti air crew. Finally, once all of the changelings were below and secured, Keen sat with an exhale.

“Whoo!” she breathed out, “ now that's my PT for the year.” She laughed, unhooking the armor with her magic. Ray stood next to her, helping her unhook the armor. The infirmary had become more populated now that most if the injured had been brought below. “Now I got to get to my real duties, healing these ponies.” The final leg plate of get armor clanged against the ground. She began to redress into her scrubs.

“Don't you think you've done enough today?” Ray implored. Keen’s amber magic finished tying the final knot in her scrub cap.

“Oh no, Ray.” She testified, “a medic’s job is not done while injured remain. Don't worry about me. Get topside and help your friends and mine. Thank you for all your help.” The airship shook from the onslaught of magical spears from the umbrums, thus strengthening Keen’s advice. “Now go!” She turned quickly and sped off to what may have been her assigned squad who seemed to be working on a cut up Equestrian soldier.

Convincing her seemed to be out of the question, so Ray took her advice and returned to the top deck to continue its defense alongside Gavin.

~

Geoff and Jack had their work cut out for them. With the center of the boat being the most congested, moving injured out of combat was troublesome. The sick bay entrance was at the bow and they could not risk that trip over and over. Instead, they brought them down through an amidships hatch for the sick bay medics to come and transport them to the infirmary. Jack shielded Geoff as he would carry ponies to the hatch. After handing off injured to the medics, Jack would lower his shield to fend off more changelings alongside Geoff.

Geoff and his sword would cut through anything. The blades that extended from the devices on the changelings’ backs would either break or be sliced like butter by the black and lime claymore, depending on Geoff’s angle. Jack, on the other hand, smashed any changeling’s bones to dust with one swing. Their fragile nature made it easy for him to not kill them outright, but to simply incapacitate them. Even though Geoff said not to go easy on them, Jack only crippled the enemy into submission. If, and only if, his or any of his friends lives were in danger would he kill. Geoff didn't admit it to himself, but he was guilty of the same empathy.

Occasionally, Geoff would look over at the Nightingale to get a sense of its state. It wasn't being overrun, but it wasn't doing any better than the Restless. He knew the Dreamwalker would be safe hidden in the clouds, so he didn't bother trying to look past the zeppelin balloon above him. It was then that he witnessed a soldier be shot off of his anti air gun. Geoff quickly sprinted over, Jack hot on his heels. Geoff kneeled over the soldier to examine his vitals. Jack had already shielded Geoff’s rear from any incoming fire or combatants.

“He's gone.” Geoff said, feeling the wound. The magic inside these devices seemed to have a sort of burning effect, as the afflicted area had been charred. Even then, there was an exit wound, implying that the object acting as a carrier for the heat would pierce through the body like a real bullet. If not careful, these things could be more devastating than the Crew treats it.

“What next, Geoff?” Jack yelled over gunfire and swords, yanking Geoff from his analysis. Geoff blinked several times quickly to reassess the situation. One AA gunner is down, leaving starboard side weaker.

“I'm gonna jump on this gun here. Watch my ass.” Geoff yelled, mounting the gun.

“Do you even know how to use that thing?” Jack said, swatting the occasional changeling backwards with his mace.

Geoff started to get a feel for the controls of the gun. He took note of the several controls and heads-up display(HUD) in front of him. An ammunition counter, a range setting, a temperature meter, core stability meter, and other numbers plagued the HUD. The joystick was very large and steering wheel-like. The triggers were oversized for a pony’s hooves to fit and squeeze them. A lever on Geoff’s right with squeeze handle was in the “35” setting, the lowest setting. He deduced that this was the range setter.

“I have no clue, but I think I'm figuring out how it works.” Then Geoff squeezed the large triggers in the direction of a small group of changelings. The large, magical rounds zipped right to them. About three puffs of smoke and the changelings began to fall to the earth. “Holy shit, I think I can get used to this.” Geoff said with a smile, mainly to himself. His control of the weapon became visibly more confident after that first group of changelings. His ability at range finding and setting the range made him an enormous threat to the changelings still in the air on starboard side. His judgement of range hadn't even occurred to him until this moment.

After several minutes of getting a feel for his new skill, the changelings around both ships began to thin greatly. Many tried to swoop in to fight on deck but were shot down immediately. Geoff remained vigilant on the gun. Jack shielded his rear. Michael and Ryan kept the changelings off of the engine at the stern. Gavin and Ray kept changelings from the bow.

A loud bang could be heard. Geoff, being on starboard side, could see what it was immediately. A white flare shot out from the bow of the Nightingale in the direction of Manehattan. The Crew felt the ship they stood on jerk as it began to move forward in the direction of the flare. The Nightingale remained close to Restless’s starboard. Once between the umbrum army and Manehattan, the Nightingale shot out another flare. This one was purple, ejected away from the Nightingale’s port side. Both ships began to rotate their course until their ports’ broadsides were facing towards the umbrum army, starboard towards Manehattan in a defensive position.

Time seemed to stand still for a minute or two. It was all too quiet. The remaining changelings kept massive distance between them and the airships. The umbrums were out of range of the ships, but continued to launch their spears anyways, hoping to strike the ships. Another bang startled the Crew when another flare flew over the umbrum army. Green.

Geoff’s eyes widened. He quickly jumped off the gun and started to run to where the Crew was when the battle began.

“Come on, Jack!” Geoff ordered, weaving around stallions and mares alike. Jack, again, remained closely behind.

Once back to their original spot, Geoff could see his four others running towards him and Jack to regroup. Geoff sighed in relief to see all of them still alive and standing.

“We saw the thing.” Michael said, slowing his run with Ryan to a stop right in front of Geoff. “What now?” Gavin and Ray joined the group a second later. Geoff turned his attention to the flare and let his gaze fall to the umbrum army.

“Luna said that until the green flare goes off,” Geoff said, leaning over the railing, “We shouldn't engage in ground combat. Meaning…”

“We're supposed to fight those umbrum guys down there?” Ryan questioned.

The Crew moved to the railing to get a view of the army overboard. The Restless and Nightingale had done a huge number onto the forces below. The army seemed to be a third of its original size. Umbrum corpses littered the grasslands below in small black and grey patches. The changelings in the air began to retreat towards the army of umbrums. The Nightingale began firing once again at the retreating changelings. Soon, the Restless joined in the firing.

“Seems that we gotta go then.” Geoff said. Suddenly, without question, Geoff vaulted over the railing.

“What the fuck!?” Michael yelled, rushing to the railing, followed by the rest of them.

“Geoff!” Gavin yelled downward. The rest of them could only look. Geoff fell in a controlled manner, feet first. When he came into contact with the ground, a small shockwave protruded from where his feet planted. He stood from his crouched position, unscathed. Looking up, Geoff waved to his friends to do the same.

“Oh fuck that!” Gavin said, backing up from the railing and losing some of his English accent. “That’ll kill me!”

“Okay,” Michael added with a raised eyebrow and growing smile, “that actually looked pretty fucking cool.” Michael backed up for a running start. He sprinted to the railing, planted a foot on the rail and front flipped once. “Ohhh shiiiiiiit!” He screamed, falling to Geoff’s position. Ryan shrugged. He ambled with his hands now stuffed in his pockets. Once stood on the railing, he stepped off as if there were ground to step on. Ray tried to stand on the railing like Ryan, but when he raised his leg to the rail, his foot caught it. He rolled over the rail in an uncontrolled fit.

“Oh fuck me!” He yelled, going overboard.

“Hey Jack?” Gavin said, under his breath. Jack turned to Gavin, laughing to see him holding tightly to a frustrated looking stallion. “You mind taking my bow and being there for me in spirit, Jack? I'm gonna spend time getting to know my new mate here, uh… wot’s your name then?”

“Sergeant Rusty To-” The stallion began monotonously and obviously annoyed, but was interrupted by Gavin’s frantic voice.

“Rusty! My new pal Rusty. So yeah, I'll catch up with you guys later and-” His speech trailed to laughter and whooping noises. Jack had begun to grab Gavin at his sides, tickling him. Gavin slowly lost grip until fully detached from the stallion. Jack secured Gavin over his own shoulder. Gavin flailed furiously. “Hey! Let go a’ me you fat prick!”

“Call me whatever you want,” Jack said, mocking Gavin’s accent, “but you're not staying here, ya ain't, no siree.” Jack leapt clear over the railing and began to fall. Gavin only screamed and made strange bird noises. He shielded his eyes with his hands as well as closed them.

Once on the ground, Jack continued to hold a screaming Gavin. Mid scream, Gavin stopped to open his eyes and look between his fingers. Michael, Ryan, and Ray were all snickering. When Gavin stopped, the snickering turned into guffaws. Jack let a giggling Gavin down onto the ground.

“Ey, it wasn't that bad, lads.” Gavin casually said with wobbling legs.

“We could hear you scream like a little bitch even before Jack jumped.” Michael wheezed out, clutching his stomach from laughter.

“Hey, well at least I Gavin’d the jump for you, Gavin.” Ray added.

“Guys. Stop.” Geoff barked in. The remaining five did just that. When they did, it immediately reminded them why they had jumped in the first place. “Don't forget what we're dealing with here.”

“Right. Sorry, Geoff.” Michael said, slowly drawing his swords from their sheathes. The rest of the Crew mumbled their apologies together, readying their weapons.

Before the Crew was what remained of the umbrum army. A large portion stood ready for orders. The piercing green lights reached from their eyes like spotlights. Their armor already scratched and stained from the airships’ hail of bullets. From the front of the umbrum unit, Sombra himself lead. His jagged teeth had no fear of showing themselves to the Crew.

“So you are the humans meant to oppose me?” Sombra boasted. The gems that sat on his necklace hummed with extreme instability and power. “Only six jokers with ancient relics? Bah. Don't disrespect my abilities.”

“Yeah?” Geoff said, “I've seen fillies do more damage to their classrooms than you could do to a city. If you could've made it to one, that is.” Geoff flicked his thumb towards Manehattan.

“And you think strength must be exhibited through physical means?” Sombra spat, “Typical, pathetic humans.”

“Hey man,” Michael protested, “you're the one that judged us by our looks right off the get go. So I don't know what place you're in to call us pathetic.” Sombra huffed.

“Good observation.” Sombra said, clearly impressed with their ability to show no fear. “Maybe humans aren't so idiotic as the tales say. This makes them much more of a reward to conquer.” Sombra snarled, showing his teeth once more. “If you six could do this much damage, even with those ponies slowing you down, then I can only wonder what the rest of your species is capable of.” Sombra’s snake-like tongue licked his lips, exhibiting his primal nature.

“That's the thing,” Ryan joined in, “our species can't band together against a common threat until it's too late. That's why we're here: to stop you before you even have a chance to try anything.”

“Hmph,” Sombra scoffed, “Well then, I'd like to see your feeble attempt.” The umbrums readied their magical weapons. Spears, pikes, swords, axes, and many alike were materialized. A single, uniform stomp was made by the army to signal each other that they are ready for a charge. It was intimidating, but the Crew stood firm. “You, Gambler.” Sombra lifted a hoof in their direction. The Crew looked amongst each other to see who he was talking about.

“Me?” Geoff questioned, pointing at himself. He assumed the mustache gave that vibe to the blackened stallion.

“Yes.” Sombra responded, drawing out the ‘s’ with a hiss. “Come. Face me. My rabble can squabble with yours. You, however, have piqued my interest. How strong will your minions stand after you are slain?”

“They're not minions.” Geoff firmly stated. “They're much more than friends, even. They're family.” Sombra huffed in disappointment.

“Whoever they are in relation to you is of no importance to me-”

“Yeah, well how about we make it important?” Ryan interjected with a smirk.

“Please,” Sombra yawned, “do not humor me. I'm in no humorous mood.”

“Then let's cut the bullshit.” Geoff defended Ryan, beginning to prowl in Sombra’s direction, sword drawn. Geoff pulled the flare gun from within his trench coat with the opposite hand and quickly shot the flare towards the heavens without removing his glare from Sombra. The flare soared upwards until it bursted with an echoed bang. He tossed the gun aside. “I just want to get rid of you and go home.” Geoff’s voice grew more and more serious as his grip tightened on his claymore.

“If that is true,” Sombra’s horn and gems around his neck began to glow a ghostly green, “then allow me to alter my form to something more...suitable.” Sombra engulfed himself into a black, green, and crimson sphere of what looked to be smoke. Geoff halted his advance to see the result.

The smoke cleared and the pony they saw moments ago had disappeared, only to be replaced by a man. A man bearing the striking resemblance and armor scheme of Sombra. The teeth, the long, flowing black locks of hair, the green-crimson eyes. If it were not for the devilish smile, the horn extending inhumanly from his forehead, and the intense mana emitting from his person, it may have well been a clone. But no, it was definitely him.

“Thought you said humans were pussies.” Ray egged Sombra on. “I guess you wanted something that matched your personality better?” Sombra snarled in Ray’s direction.

“Silence, you insignificant welp!” Sombra yelled, materializing a greatsword in his right hand. The sword appeared to be transparent, but opaque enough to be seen. Its kris design with a saw blade serration on one side gave it an extremely menacing aesthetic. “I may not believe you are the most intelligent of species, but I will say your kind have the most effective frames for combat. The pony form is too limiting. Too easy to kill. But as you said earlier, Gambler,” Sombra steeled himself, ready to pounce, “talk requires no effort and bears no fruit. Let's play.” Sombra exhibited his smaller, but still just as threatening, teeth.

Ray couldn't help but chuckle once at the inside pun. As quickly as the eye could blink, Sombra and Geoff clashed once. They pushed against each other’s blades, waiting for the other to break. The umbrum army charged around Sombra and Geoff’s duel towards the Crew.

The Crew held their ground, picking their targets carefully. Suddenly, a set of loud hums could be heard from behind them. Ryan and Ray instinctively moved to the rear of their group to eliminate whatever threat closed in on their backs. They were relieved to see small skiffs of recognizable ponies from the Restless hovering, then landing on the ground to backup the Crew. Few pegasi flew in formations above. They donned the changelings weaponry to maintain air superiority. Earth ponies and unicorns charged for the umbrum army to hold the battle from seeping towards Manehattan. The Crew, now reinvigorated by the support, charged along with the ponies.

With combat raging all around them, Sombra and Geoff were locked in a dance of death. When a blade would strike, the opposing party would deflect, parry, or simply block the attack. Sombra’s human form proved to be troublesome for Geoff. Giving himself superhuman speed and strength, Sombra enjoyed their duel. Geoff, on the other hand, was worried that he may not keep up at some point. It was as if every strike Sombra delivered became faster than the last. In contrast to his army of umbrums and changelings, his attacks held form and structure. It may have been due to his royal background to learn how to duel, but something was different. His style was too… modern? Geoff pondered this as much as he could between attacks. One last clash of swords, as they both held their ground. Staring into one another’s eyes, they both had the exact same thought:

Something’s not right here…

Sombra fell too deep into thought while Geoff capitalized. He brought his elbow up to meet Sombra’s nose. It made solid contact as multiple audible cracks could be heard. The hard nasal bone in the bridge of Sombra’s nose had bent inward, sharp and quick. It penetrated upwards and skimmed his skull. Dazed, Sombra stumbled backward trying to regain his composure. Before he could, Geoff advanced while he had momentum in the fight.

At this moment, the Elements arrived to complete the spell alongside Luna. The Crew had been scattered along the battlefield, helping where they could. Once the Elements made their entrance, the Crew retreated one by one to regroup with the Elements. By the time they began their retreat, it was too late. A bellowing of agony could be heard. Each AH member stopped dead in their tracks. They each rerouted their course to the center of the battlefield to see the source of the roar. Once the scene came into view, the sight was one to behold.

The air seemed to swirl around Geoff and Sombra as they stood extremely close to one another. A closer look could show that Sombra had been impaled by Geoff’s claymore. The blade pierced entirely into Sombra, evident with his chest making contact to the claymore’s guard. Sombra’s grip on his sword loosened until it fell with the blade sticking itself into the earth.

“Fuck the spell.” Geoff said, loud enough for only Sombra to hear. The sword had passed through Sombra’s diaphram, leaving him incapable of breathing correctly to speak. He could only make small grunts of pain, ironically shortening his breath. “Just go away from us.”

Geoff placed his left arm to Sombra’s neck for support. He withdrew the blade from Sombra’s chest, blood spilling from both the entry and exit wounds. Sombra, barely conscious from inadequate oxygen intake, slowly clutched his entry wound with one hand. His eyes rolled to the back of his head as he fell forward. Geoff stepped out of his way to allow him to fall in one swoop. When he connected with the earth, Sombra lay still.

Geoff did not let his guard down. With the fight over, he decided it was best to eyeball the humanized corpse of Sombra to be sure that his death was absolute. No rise or fall of the chest. Eye movement was non existent. Geoff knelt to feel for Sombra's pulse on his wrist, which returned unresponsive. As Geoff began to wonder the purpose of the scrolls and their power being in their hands for such a simple battle, he was interrupted by a distant war horn. He stood, taking his eyes off Sombra to locate the horn’s origin.

In the distance, a third airship was making its way into the battlefield’s airspace. Cadence’s cutie mark was made visible on the zepplin as it approached. The reinforcements to Equestria had finally arrived. Sure they arrived late, but they were here nonetheless. The fighting continued to rage around him and the Crew. The umbrums, loyal to Sombra’s will to their dying breath, continued to fight. The ponies without the Crew, however, began gaining the upper hand on their own. The Crew, Mane 6, and Luna crept up to Geoff and the corpse to get a better view.

“Something… does not seem correct.” Luna worried, examining Sombra’s corpse.

“So I wasn't the only one, hunh?” Geoff questioned.

“I-Is he… d-d-dead?” Fluttershy shuttered, almost crying.

“Hmmm,” Luna enclosed the corpse in her magical, starry glow. The glow remained for about a minute, everyone at the edge of their seat waiting for her response. “His vitals have been halted, no brain activity, yet, there is one thing we have yet to conclude.”

“What would that be?” Geoff asked, unable to control his instincts. His head remained on a swivel. Luna’s uncertainty began to trigger short-term memories of the duel that took place only minutes before.

“King Sombra had attained a power greater than any mage in Equestria’s history.” Luna explained, now eyeing the necklace that remained in its normal place. “If this were true, his abilities could have even surpassed that of alicorn capabilities. So why was he slain so easily?”

The Crew and Mane 6 were confused, to say the least. Sombra was confident prior to the fight, so there could be no way he faltered at such a crucial moment. He attacked in a uniform manner with a hint of ferocity, so he obviously intended to win. The confusion begins with that there was no struggle in the final blow dealt by Geoff. Such determination at the beginning, all to just slow himself to die in the end?

The thoughts swirling within all of their heads had come to an abrupt stop when a rip in mid air began to appear over Sombra’s corpse. Geoff recoiled and jumped back in utter surprise. He regrouped with his friends, making their group in full attendence. The rip extended to about twenty feet high before it spread open. The same green and red fog of mana would pour from it as from Sombra’s eyes. Once open, a terrible sight played before them through this rip. A city on a planet foreign to Equus burned in the same manner as Fillydelphia. Changelings zoomed across the rip wreaking havoc on the rather large city. Umbrums marched through the city’s streets, ruthlessly slaying the alien looking people. Then, the unexpected occurred. To all, except Luna and Geoff, the sight seemed to be blatantly impossible.

Sombra had strode into frame of the rip with the same glowing crystals as before around his neck. He stared into the rip straight at the large group with a mischievous smile. The Mane 6 were struck with fear but stood tall while the Crew only gritted their teeth in anger at his deceiving clone. He strode through the rip alone, leaving his armies behind on the other world. As soon as his whole body had passed through, Geoff realized what was bothering him during the fight with Sombra’s double.

“You wish for me to go away from you,” Sombra spoke, mainly to Geoff, “yet you try to kill me by such simple means.” He tsked. “Oh you humans are quite the delight.”

Geoff could feel the energy radiating from Sombra’s direction first. Luna felt it soon after, then Twilight, then everybody else. Geoff felt no fear, despite the crushing gaze Sombra lay on their entire group. The Mane 6 were not so lucky in the strength category however. Fluttershy cowered in the back of the group behind a lightly sweating Applejack, Rarity began to shiver, Rainbow’s forelegs felt weak at Sombra’s sheer presence, and Pinkie’s plastered smile melted into a face of concern for her friends. She taught them many years ago to laugh in the face of danger, but this threat was indeed one to fear.

“That clone of yours,” Geoff pointed, “I could tell it wasn't you. The way it fought was nothing like the history books described your fighting style.” Sombra raised his eyebrow in surprise. Even Michael glanced at Geoff to make sure it was really him. Geoff’s time with Twilight when not on Applejack’s fields, unbeknownst to the Crew, gave him time to study up on their enemy. He learned many things about this universe’s Sombra. Some things outside of Michael’s knowledge even.

“I'm flattered.” Sombra drawled, “You know about my past. Then you of all humans and ponies should understand my pain. To have my subjects ripped from my hooves in my quest for power to protect them is a crime! Mutiny is what the Royal Sisters enacted on my throne!” He began to yell. Luna reeled back in bafflement. Before she could retort, Geoff raised his palm in her direction.

“He’s right, in a way.” Geoff said to Luna, not looking in her direction. “You both did end up putting Cadence to replace him. The crystal ponies were not pleased at first. Generations later, they had forgotten Sombra was their ruler.” He looked Luna dead into her eyes. “And that is how you make a good person into a resentful one.” Luna was wide eyed at Geoff’s venomous words, but then succumbed to the truth of the matter. Her lack of response meant to Geoff that he was correct in his hypothesis.

“Ah haa,” Sombra sighed, “look how the Princess of Night realizes her apathy towards another noblepony.” Geoff interrupted his teasing.

“And if you truly cared for your ponies, you wouldn't be trying to destroy them.”

“Those insolent ponies hold no love for me!” Sombra snarled. He began tracing his eyes upwards, “Which reminds me…”

The crystal empire’s airship hovered opposite the battlefield from the Nightingale and Restless. The battlefield had grown quiet during their exchange. Geoff hadn't noticed until now that the fighting ceased when Sombra made his entrance. The umbrums stopped dead in their tracks to bow to Sombra. The Equestrian soldiers only stood and stared at the sight, confused. Sombra’s eyes directed attention to the airship. The Crew and Mane 6 followed his gaze as the airship named Opal as it began to open fire onto the battlefield, massacring Equestrian soldiers who were not quick enough to raise shields. The larger weapons and broadsides of the Opal fired on the Restless and Nightingale. The airships were pushed in Manehattan’s direction from the force exerted by the Opal. Her firepower was evidently tearing the Restless and Nightingale apart. The Mane 6, Crew, and Luna dropped their jaws in disbelief.

“Now before you think the Crystal Empire had a change of loyalties,” Sombra stepped to his side with a hoof lifted to his fallen human form, “I will let this explain to you, Gambler, why you felt that this combatant wasn't truly me and why the Crystal Empire is under my control once again.”

Black smoke blanketed the corpse in the grass. The smoke swirled and twisted for a moment, until it dissipated. A lone stallion lay in its place. Geoff looked closely at it. The stallion was unfamiliar with its ice white coat to Geoff or the Crew, except Michael. Geoff’s eyes widened, stricken with grief, the next moment when he heard a voice choke from behind him.

“Sh-Shining…?” Twilight whimpered.

Chapter 10: Victory?

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“What a library you’ve got here, Twilight.” Geoff exclaimed, letting his eyes wander over the curved bookcases against the crystalline walls. He bent over to better see the detail Twilight had gone into organizing her books.

“Well,” Twilight said sheepishly, “is nothing like Canterlot’s library.” Geoff went row by row feeling the spines of multiple books and reading their titles. Most were surprisingly in English, while others were in a language that seemed alien to him. He picked up one of the foreign books, leaving the book on the left to lean on the book of the right so he wouldn't lose It’s place. He cracked the book open and merely looked at the words. All of them were gibberish. He could clearly remember when he first opened the scroll that gave him control over his abilities that the symbols were the same. But with the scroll, it was like he could kind of feel what the scroll was saying. Now, though, it all seemed like chicken scratch.

He flipped through the pages, mainly regarding the age of the book and the pages within. Twilight leaned to one side to get a view of the book Geoff had between his hands. She couldn't get a clear view, so she trotted to him and looked at the books contents. Geoff was staring at a page with all kinds of plants and herbs native to Equestria. Most of these plants, however, have gone extinct. She noticed how Geoff was simply feeling the pages between his fingertips.

“Oh,” Twilight said, “that’s the thirteenth volume of the ancient alchemist Bay Leaf’s Herbologist’s Guide to Equestrian Flora and Almanac.” She finished with a smile. “I've read it a couple of times.”

“Well the pictures look cool.” Geoff said, feeling the fragile pages between his fingertips as he flipped to another page. “Wait, you can read this?” Geoff’s eyebrow cocked upwards, his eyes not leaving the page he was on.

“Welllll,” Twilight dragged, “in this case, I'd use the word ‘read’ more loosely.” She giggled, “I'm not an expert on Old Ponish. I know many of the words and structure, enough to read a book at the very least. I've even gone to Celestia herself in my time as her student to ask about certain words. Most of the time, she would say that a word or phrase would actually be nonsensical or made up.”

Geoff nodded slowly, eyes still scanning the pages and it's pictures. “What if that spell thing the princesses are looking for is in one of your books?”

“Oh I don't think so.” She said as a matter of factly, turning around beginning her walk back to the center of the library. Geoff closed the book shut and carefully placed it back onto the shelf in its rightful place. “I've read nearly every book in this library and none even remotely mention interdimensional magic. The rune that the princesses found to bring you and your friends here was an absolute fluke.” Geoff was now right next to Twilight as they exited the row they were in, now moving in the direction of a desk in the center of the enormous library. “The book was found in only two days of searching the library at Canterlot. Even then, gathering everything was a chore. Beyond that book, the princesses have never seen magic like that.”

“Then just check that book for the spell you're looking for.” Geoff furrowed his eyebrows, almost annoyed. As Twilight sat at the desk they now arrived to, she scoffed.

“That was the very first book we checked.” She explained, “the book only referenced another book at the end of the already vague rune used to bring you all here. It's in Old Ponish, so of course a word or two in the reference is completely unreadable. At least the guards know what kind of title to look for. It shortens the search to only a few weeks instead of several months looking for books that may have the rune’s procedures.”

Geoff couldn't argue with the logic. He couldn't ask her or the other princesses to check again. He felt kind of bad, insulting their intelligence so quickly. He knew he was frustrated with being stuck there, so he decided to change the topic when he saw a picture frame on Twilight’s desk. In it, he saw four ponies, one of which being Twilight. He picked it up to get a better look at it. Twilight noticed his curiosity.

“That's my family.” she said, looking at the contents of Geoff’s hands. She pointed with a hoof at each member as she called them out, “Thats Night Light, my dad. Twilight Velvet, my mom. And that's Shining Armor, my brother.” Geoff looked closely at each of them. They seemed like a happy family. The picture didn't seem too old so he assumed they remained a happy family. Shining had a foreleg around his little sister’s back as he held a wide, awkward smile. As if he didn't know how to smile for a camera.

“So where is your family? Now that you're a princess and all that.” Twilight had already continued looking through a reference book, holding the titles of many spell books in Old Ponish. She had spent the past few days deciphering the language, trying to find a match of some sort and hoped the reference would share insight on its whereabouts.

“My parents stayed in Canterlot. My brother became Captain of the Crystal Guard.” She cracked a warm smile at the mention of her brother. “He married Princess Cadence, the Crystal Empire’s princess, just a few winters ago.”

“So wouldn't that make him a king and her a queen?”

Twilight frowned. “Not necessarily. Shining isn't of ‘royal blood.’ I may be royalty now, but we weren't when we were born. Our parents were mere citizens. Because of that, Cadence remains princess and Shining remains Captain.”

“Oh shit, my bad.” Geoff apologized, “I didn't know this was a touchy subject.” He noticed her solemn expression and tried to make amends.

“It's not, really,” Twilight reassured Geoff with a chuckle, “it's just that sometimes I feel that Shining should have these wings so that he could properly be king. And because he's stronger, more brave, and confident in anything he does.” She extended a wing to view it with near regret, wondering what they would look like on Shining.

“Hey, you're doing a good job as a princess.” Geoff patted her back lightly, “You're doing your family proud. I'm sure of it. In fact, I think your brother might like it better this way.”

“How do you know if that's true?” Twilight questioned, her eyes glazed towards Geoff’s.

“Well,” he explained, “I've had my time in the military. I know that there are many soldiers that believe some other sergeants should make officers, or officers should make general. But those same officers and sergeants won't go that high.” Twilight shook her head in surprise and raised an eyebrow.

“Why wouldn't they?”

“For the same reason you think your brother deserves the wings. They think they aren't strong, smart, or brave enough while in reality they are just as strong or stronger than the ones they believe deserve the authority.” Geoff removed his hand from her back. “You just need a chance to show it. You'll do your family proud. I can empathize, too. Look at me with my friends over there. They expect so much from me. I can run an entertainment company. But people’s lives? That’s new for me. And I'm not doing half bad, I've got to say.” He finished with a smile.

Twilight’s ever present frown morphed slowly as the corners of her mouth raised themselves from their drooped position to a full smile. She looked just like her brother in the picture. A single tear slid down her face after she turned to the table away from Geoff.

“Thank you, Geoff.”

Five Miles outside Manehattan

Geoff could not feel his legs under him. As if he had been detached from his waist down. The weight of his blood dripping claymore gradually disappeared. He cursed that memory that danced in front of his eyes, for he knew what Shining meant to Twilight. She idolized him. She wanted to fill those hoofprints that he left on the ground he walked. After this moment, there will be no more hoofprints to follow. The road ahead of Twilight is now blank as she sat over her brother’s crumpled and still form. Tears ran in streams down her face as droplets landed one by one onto Shining’s bloodied coat.

“W-what was the l-last thing I said t-to him?..” She kept choking up to herself over and over. Her closest friends gathered around her, paying no attention to the circling Sombra. Her friends shed light tears together around Twilight once they realized a brother, a son, and a close friend was now gone forever.

Sombra’s smile screamed contentedness. He was almost glowing at how perfectly things were playing out before his eyes. The pieces all landed on the right tiles, the sounds of true defeat and loss resonating within the boisterous stallion's black and beating heart.

“Do you see it now, Princess of Friendship?” He said aloud, “Can you begin to feel even the smallest inkling of pain I felt so long ago. You have lost the one most dear to you at the hand of someone you believed you could fully trust.” He stopped his circling of the group huddled around the corpse. He now stood between the Mane 6 and the Crew. “I wonder what you will do next, Princess.”

No one had time to react as Sombra was hit by an unrelenting force. The grass in the fields parted as a beam of amethyst and golden magic passed over his shoulder. An audible ping could be heard before a small explosion emanated behind Sombra. He remained unmoved and did not flinch. Once the rush of the moment had dissipated, he smiled slightly wider in the caster’s direction. The beam’s origin could be followed back to the horn of a certain purple pony in question over her dead brother, as the intensity and concentration of magic left a lingering pink mist and a swirling, teal neon-like energy twirling around the mist along the path the magical bolt took.

“As expected.” Sombra continued, his body unscathed. “Vengeance has a sweet closure to it, doesn't it, Twilight? I cannot wait to taste it myself.”

The Mane 6 and the Crew looked on in shock since the bolt was too quick to follow. Instead, their eyes followed the thin mist, past Sombra, until the mist was most thick, and almost red, around Geoff’s left shoulder. A small spot near the guard of the claymore he held upside down remained sizzling at the power behind the shot. He had deflected the shot that intended to pierce his skull. Should he have not known Twilight would retaliate, he'd also be lying in the grass motionless like her sibling. The bolt had deflected to his upper bicep, cutting cleanly through about a centimeter of flesh. Behind the cauterized wound was the impact of the bolt in the ground. A small crater in the soil of about a foot in depth and two feet in diameter was where the bolt found its resting place. Despite the bolt’s destructive power, Geoff only winced when it grazed him.

“How c-could you do this?..” Twilight choked up, tears still running down her face. Her eyes had taken on an unnaturally bright turquoise color with the purple of her irises contracted into a cat-like shape in obvious, blind rage. Flame shapes began taking form around her eye sockets, visibly moving like an actual flame. Sombra stepped aside to allow Twilight to clearly see her brother’s killer. She bored through Geoff, allowing Sombra to close the distance between himself and his portal.

“Now Twi,” Applejack said softly, “I know this whole situation turned sideways mighty quick, but there ain't no need to be blamin’ Geoff here for an honest mistake.” She scanned her eyes across her closest friends and then back on Twilight. “Would you have shot like that at one of us if we had done that?”

Twilight shut her eyes tightly and shook her head. “I… honestly don't know… maybe…?” She said with an unsure and trembling tone. Applejack was taken aback, but did not show it. She and the rest of the Mane 6 had no clue Shining meant that much to Twilight, that she may even have done the same to them should they be in Geoff’s shoes. “But him,” she pointed a hoof across the field at the stoic Geoff, with a face comparable to a blank slate. “He knew something was off about Sombra.” Logical thought started calming her down as the flames on her sockets died down but were still present. “He should have went and-and gotten us to help.”

“He was just trying to help, Twilight.” Rainbow said respectfully. “I think any one of us could've made that mistake. Right, girls?” They all nodded slowly in agreement. The flames in Twilight’s eyes grew once again, as she rose and stepped away from her friends and now deceased brother. With all of the sorrow and grief in her heart, she said the only thing she could with as much sting as she could muster.

“Then you all are no different from him...” In an electric flash of violet and teal, Twilight vanished, leaving the crown upon her head in place. The crown fell to the grass below.

The gunfire of the Opal, Nightingale, and Restless seemed muffled to the Mane 6. They could all feel the twist of the verbal knife in Twilight’s heavy words that they now beared. Applejack could only make a disappointed sigh but feeling no less hurt than her friends. The rest couldn't hear this sigh, as they were unable to unhear the destructive words Twilight left for them. Soul crushing words that cut deeper than any sword ever could. It created a wound that could possibly never heal. The rest of what Sombra said was nearly inaudible to the girls, except Luna, who could only lament for the remaining Mane 6.

“Joy.” He said. Luna scowled at Sombra. “Come and see, humans! Behold how the elements crumble at the might of a few puny words.” He let out a hearty laugh.

Jack turned to Geoff to see if he would respond. His face remained unmoved, as if he forgot how to work his body, his claymore not leaving it's inverted position. Jack could only wonder what he could be feeling. Sombra had played the two leaders of their teams into distraught and chaos. Without them, their chances at defeating Sombra here and now were borderline impossible at best. Jack felt a small gust of wind pass by him in the direction of Sombra. His peripherals let him know it wasn't Geoff, as he remained planted in the same spot.

“You MOTHERFUCKER!” An iconic, rage-filled voice swore. Michael went from inert to a sustained twirl through the air with blinding speed. Both of his swords drawn and his right sword reversed for a more devastating strike. The swords blurred together like helicopter blades, almost glowing in the setting sun. Sombra only smirked as Michael’s swords phased right through Sombra’s standing body, not even cutting into anything. Michael landed with a magnificent grace as the shifting air that made way for his attack caught up with him, waving the grass at his ankles. His brow furrowed in frustration at the false image of the evil pony.

“There is no hope for you and your little motley crew.” Sombra’s voice emanating from behind Michael, making his eyes grow wide in realization. “Not anymore.” As Michael turned to strike with his left sword, a concussive force struck him in the small of his back. The sheer force made him lose grip on his swords and was flung like a ragdoll. Tumbling and rolling towards his friends, his final destination was Jack’s chest. Jack caught Michael, the force digging Jack's heels into the dirt and eliciting a deep grunt from the bearded tank. One sword tumbled to Jack’s feet on its side while the other impaled itself into the ground to his left between him and Geoff.

“Fuck me…” Michael groaned out.

“Are you okay?” Jack questioned, “Can you stand?” Michael climbed from his arms to stand.

“I think so.” Michael said, rubbing his back, fury still pulsating through his arteries.

“Now then,” Sombra continued, “Since the Gambler wasn't the one who emanated such a formidable presence, why does the true bearer of this presence not step forth so that I do not need to kill any more of your friends… yet.”

The Crew, except Geoff, looked around at each other with confusion, unsure of who Sombra referred to. He sensed a power among them that they were unaware of. He previously believed it was Geoff, since this ominous spike of power seemingly radiated from Geoff’s direction. Sombra’s clone, towards the end of the duel, realized that Geoff wasn't the one due to the irregular shifts in the source’s position. Another soldier stood on the battlefield that contained within them the power he seeked.

“Even if we knew what you were talking about,” Ray yelled over the now dimming gunfire, “why would we give you what you want?”

It was at this point, the Crew noticed the Mane 6 boarding a skiff brought by an officer from the Dreamwalker. They trudged aboard, still shaken by the events that transpired. Luna had also retreated to the skiff with apologetic eyes towards the Crew, knowing they would need to retreat as well. The battle was debatably won as many umbrums and changelings were now dead, injured, or captured. Their main objective to defend Manehattan called for an official success despite heavy losses, the death of Captain Shining, and the disappearance of the Princess of Friendship. The Opal fired up its main thrusters heading straight for the rip Sombra had created. The rip grew to compensate for the enormous ship. As it slipped it's way through the rip, Sombra considered Ray’s point.

“Hmm,” Sombra pondered for a minute, “How about a compromise?” The Crew remained silent, waiting for his proposition. They exchanged unsure glances between each other, except for Geoff, his eyes glued to the grass. They decided unspokenly that their best option was to at least hear Sombra out. After a few seconds, Sombra continued. “Since there are no objections, I will make my proposition. One of you has the ability and power to command my armies alongside me. A vital asset to my domination of this world and all others. I felt this presence through my mimic during the battle and believed it to be the Gambler. Obviously,” he raised a hoof towards the catatonic Geoff, “I was proven incorrect. All that person must do is join me in my conquest and seeking of further means of destruction. In return, I will not invade, destroy, or otherwise approach your homeworld. You have my word.” He ended with a forehoof over his chest and bowed his head to add emphasis.

“Your word means diddly dick to us!” Michael yelled, his back still sore from the blow he took. He pushed his pain to the back of his mind to express his rage. Sombra hummed with excitement and lifted his head from his bow.

“Then shall I kill you now? Or when you are back in your doomed world?”

The Crew all turned to Geoff, who may as well be a statue. The gravity of his mistake was hitting him even harder than any of the Crew expected. The few weeks that Geoff has spent with Twilight gave him the time he needed to become attached to her. He learned a lot about her and her family on their free time talking within the library or anytime they could. She learned a lot of his family as well as his success, stresses, and conventions back on Earth. In turn, he knew the hardship she faced throughout her process of becoming a princess. He always worried that he may become too close to a pony and make a friend at some point. But he never imagined that he would be the hand to end the life of this pony’s closest and only sibling. Such little time and such a destructive impact to Geoff’s psyche.

“Geoff?” Jack said, hoping to bring a response out of Geoff, “any ideas?” Geoff finally turned his head to look at Jack, Geoff’s eyes now readable. They were filled with nothing but regret, his empathy besting him, and his eyes becoming misty. He closed his eyes, shook his head, and sheathed his claymore to his back. He turned and dragged himself in the direction of another skiff loading captured soldiers onto it. Once Geoff was aboard, the skiff zipped off to the Nightingale. This was his way of saying he didn’t want his closest friends to follow and risk their lives as well.

Now, the responsibility seemed to fall to Jack. He weighed the pros and cons, trying not to think too hard about Geoff’s or Twilight’s current state. He couldn't trust Sombra as well as Michael could hit him. With Twilight in grief and in unknown whereabouts, and Geoff gone off back to the ship, they really couldn't do much to stop Sombra right here. But accepting the deal means one of them had to go with Sombra forever. Sombra knows Geoff isn't the one, he didn't show interest in Michael, leaving it to either Ray, Gavin, Ryan, or himself. It didn't take much logic to calculate that the odds were against them. This was their only option.

“Just,” Jack called to Sombra, “come over here, and tell us who it is you're looking for.” Sombra raised an eyebrow.

“I will warn you, attacking me would be pointless and-”

“Yeah, we get it.” Jack shot back, “We don't care.” Jack tried not to hang his head, not wanting to give Sombra that satisfaction. His friends reflected Jack’s frustrated and impatient demeanor, they too holding their heads high in the face of defeat.

“Very well.” Sombra said. He took his sweet time as he neared the group of humans. Even though he stepped over the limp bodies that were his umbrum army, he smiled. It was an official loss to him for the invasion of Manehattan, but he still won at the metaphorical severing of the heads of the main forces that opposed him. Ultimately, a greater victory. The Crew sheathed their weapons accepting the fact that Sombra was right about fighting him being futile. No elements meant no chance. “Pointless” being a grave understatement. Michael, still a bit dazed, bent over and picked up his swords to be sheathed as well, obviously fuming for not being able to at least land a blow on the tyrannical stallion.

Sombra approached Jack first. Once about five feet in front of him, Sombra halted his stroll. Only about a second or two of eyeing Jack was enough for Sombra to huff and move on to Ray. He bumped his frame against Michael, trying to pull a reaction. Michael only gritted his teeth through closed lips. Jack swore under his breath, hoping it would be him so that none of the other guys would have to be the one that had to leave. Once up to Ray, Sombra looked him up and down more closely than Jack.

“Like what you see? Pure Puerto Rican fire all for you, baby.” Ray quipped, gyrating his hips and winking. Even when the moment seemed wrong, Ray made some light out of the whole ordeal. Jack even chuckled seeing how Ray stuck it to Sombra no matter how bleak things looked. It helped him and the rest of the Crew keep their chins up.

Sombra didn't respond to the sarcastic gesture, only huffing as he did with Jack. He began making his way to Ryan when he stopped, further than the last two. Sombra’s eyes widened as they flicked up and down Ryan’s stocky build, examining every detail about him. After what seemed like a minute of gawking, Sombra spoke.

“It's quite surprising.” Sombra said. Ryan raising his eyebrow and crossed his arms. “You were the one wreaking havoc on this battlefield. Killing my own and that foolish queen’s insects with such ability. I'm quite impressed.” Ryan scoffed at that.

“I'm pretty sure my friends did just as good or a better job at dealing with your little buddies there than me.” Ryan said. The Crew looked at Ryan, confused whether or not he was lying to make them look bigger or being totally honest about their effectiveness. Michael grumbled under his breath, mumbling something demeaning about his own ability.

“Hmm, quite.” Sombra said, waving off the comment, “Your acquaintances don't possess the gift that has been bestowed on you. You are capable of more than what anyone is aware of. Even the princesses do not know what power you wield. Such power should not be wasted on a lost war. So come,” Sombra beckoned once, “for the sake of your planet and my patience, we should depart. And I promise you, I will hold my end of the bargain.”

Ryan hesitated, looking between his friends and Sombra, the former giving him looks that he could not read. Blank expressions hung between them all, unknowing what each other were thinking. No one opposed the sudden decision, nor did they approve of losing a friend to such a hellish being. Jack left Michael’s side towards Ryan’s position. Once up to him, Ryan casted his eyes to the ground, his robust visage failing him.

“You don't have to go.” Jack said quietly. “We can try and figure something out. Geoff could get better, and Twilight could get over it.”

“And if they don’t?” Ryan said, quickly looking back up to Jack’s worried expression. “Why shouldn't we just secure home for sure? I know we care about this place too, but this place isn't Earth. Those ponies aren't the people we've known back home. We can't save everyone for sure…” he trailed off.

Michael watched the exchange on his own. He could only see Jack’s left jawline from his angle, but could see Ryan clearly. Behind both of them in a short distance, Ray stood next to Gavin. They both seemed just as oblivious to their conversation as Michael. Michael tried to read Ryan’s lips to possibly see what he was saying to Jack. But Jack just seemed to tilt his head downward, then started to nod as if accepting something Ryan told him. He raised his hand perpendicular to Ryan’s chest. Ryan responded by slamming his opposite hand into it and holding the gesture. They pulled each other in for a hearty hug accompanied by a couple of pats on each other’s backs. Michael decided now would be the time to run over and interject. The other Lads, Ray and Gavin, meeting Michael there.

“What’s going on?” Michael said rather loudly, “You're not really going are you?”

“Yeah,” Ryan solemnly cracked his voice, “I am. It's for the best.”

“You know how insane that is, right??” Ray said in a serious tone, “You're just going to give up on all of this?”

“Yeah, what about Geoff?” Gavin added, “Doesn't he get a say in all of this?”

“Geoff ain't here,” Ryan said to the Brit, “and this may be our only way to save our home.” Ryan put emphasis to get the point clear that they were still in a place that wasn't their own. Not only that, but fighting a war that wasn't theirs. Yet. “Just, trust me on this one okay guys? Let me be selfish, okay?”

The Crew couldn't oppose his choice. He was set on saving what he could, even if that means all the lights in the sky back home going out one by one generations later. They all were not content with Ryan’s decision to willfully go his way with Sombra. In the end, it was all they had. The galleons that floated above their heads were the only sounds they could hear. The humming of the engines drew out the sorrow in losing this close friend, but only for a moment. As Ryan stuck his hand out to Michael in the same fashion as he did to Jack. They repeated the gesture Jack and Ryan had performed earlier. Ryan cycled the gesture until each member was given a thorough farewell. They all formed tears in their eyes, one by one.

Ryan took in a deep breath and sighed. He walked through the small gap between Jack and Michael towards the awaiting Sombra. He began wiping the salted droplets from his cheeks. During the exchange, Sombra looked disgusted at their farewells. Halfway to Sombra, Ryan turned his head over his shoulder, still walking. He gave the Crew a reassuring smile that went nearly in vain. It was barely noticed at what was left of the Crew, who were already mourning the loss of their charming Gent.

“So,” Ryan began saying with obvious anger in his voice, passing Sombra and into the now smaller rip in space, “let's get going before I change my mind.”

“Such excitement.” Sombra smiled, noting the annoyance, “But as you wish.” Sombra followed Ryan through the rip to a burning city with umbrums marching through the streets and changelings buzzing about, firing their weapons on their backs at crowds of the indigenous life forms. Once clear through, and Ryan not looking back, the rip was closed. Embers from the burning city fluttering down onto the grass. When the glowing chips finally reached the waving green blades, all was silent once again.

Everything had happened so quickly, the Crew didn’t know how to react. With Ryan now gone, hope to defeat Sombra had fizzled out with the closing of the rip. Even with their homeworld loosely secured by the word of an evil stallion, they couldn’t help but feel selfish as well for placing a verdict on this and any other worlds within Sombra’s reach.

“Okay,” Jack said, wiping his face, “let’s head back.”

Restless

Returning to Canterlot

The departure from Manehattan had been delayed. In order to hold all of the surviving umbrums and changelings in the brig, some had shared cells and were packed in with four or five bodies. Some were even daisy chained by chain and shackle along the bars of the cages. The remaining soldiers took up arms to guard the bound prisoners. This left the main deck all to the four remaining Crew members.

Their ride back was silent. The only noises that prevented complete silence were the engines of the Nightingale, Restless, and Dreamwalker, Equestria’s fresh air in their ears, and Ray, sitting with his legs crossed, mindlessly spinning a throwing knife by its tip to the deck. They were all gathered by the railing of the starboard side, awaiting for their slower return to Canterlot with one less Crew member. The shock of everything that had happened nearly an hour earlier still resonated within all four of them.

Jack leaned on the railing, staring at the Nightingale. He had hoped that Geoff would be feeling at least the tiniest bit better, but doubted it. Jack thought Geoff looked so… defeated. No one would have guessed he would be the one to do what was done today, or that he would end up this bad in shape. It was all so surprising to Jack. He never would have thought that something like this could happen. Geoff being devastated like this, Ryan going off with Sombra to save their own planet, and the other guys looking like there’s no hope. He turned his head away from the neighboring ship, in hopes to see his friends having a laugh.

Gavin and Michael silently talked, breaking through some of the silence. He didn't pay much attention to what they were saying since he saw Ray excluding himself from the other three. Jack didn't want to leave him by his lonesome. So he took his Hufflepuff self to go and at least let his friend know that no one was alone in this.

Once Jack made it to Ray, the Twitch gamer did not look up from the divot his knife was creating in the hardwood. Jack pursed his lips, but sat down anyways, ignoring the voice in his head that was telling him that Ray wanted to be alone.

“How’re you doing, buddy?” Jack asked in a sincere voice. Ray glanced his eyes up to Jack for only a moment before returning them to the spinning weapon now acting like a top.

“You know.” Ray shrugged, “As good as I can be.” Jack found it haunting when Ray was this serious. All remnants of his trademark childish demeanor were all gone. He'd seen the other Hunters when they got serious, so he thought nothing of them. Even right now when they occasionally cracked a smile in their silent conversation. Ray, however, just kept spinning that double edged blade into the dark wood deck by the small leather grip.

“You wanna talk about anything that happened?” Jack proposed. Ray remained silent for several seconds before he responded.

“What's there to talk about?”

Jack let out a sigh. He was right. There truly was nothing to talk about as far as the recent event. Jack leaned back with his hands to the deck, extended his legs, and tilted his head back. Looking up towards the massive balloon holding the vessel up, his eyes traced the designs in the air sack’s material. He could hear Gavin and Michael talking, again, not knowing what they were speaking about. Whatever it was, they seemed to be helping each other cheer up. Every now and then he’d hear a chuckle from either of the two. He tuned them out as he began to really stare at the balloon. Before he could distract himself fully with the intricate designs, Ray spoke again.

“What are we going to tell the princesses?” He stopped his knife mid spin, his head picked up in Jack’s direction. Jack remained silent for a few seconds, weighing pros and cons again. Ray could only watch Jack’s eyes making small movements since their gaze was more fixated on the balloon above.

“I guess we should just tell the truth.” Jack finally said. “It would make more sense than to lie for them to find out later. If they found out we sold them out to save our own asses, then we'd be in some deep shit. More so than now.” Ray slowly nodded, confirming that Jack and himself were on the same page. He pulled the knife from the wood and slipped it inside his gauntlet. Once done, he stood and gestured with his arm to Jack asking him to follow. Jack stood, unsure of what Ray intended.

“Something wrong?” Jack asked.

“There’s a lot of things wrong.” Ray said bluntly, turning on his heels and marching towards Michael and Gavin who were also sitting in the floor. “But sitting around, being a little bitch about it won't help us any.”

Jack blinked in surprise. He lagged behind Ray, unsure of where this sudden positivity came from, if he could call it that. It was the lesson they learned early on in their time here that pulled Ray back together: don't dwell on it. Jack believed it to be correct. As they approached Michael and Gavin’s retelling of the arguable “victory” from only an hour ago, Jack felt a little bit better. His friends weren't falling apart, Geoff may come around... and what Ryan told him before he left.

Trust me, this won't be the last time you'll see me.

By the tone of Ryan’s voice, Jack felt that Ryan truly meant it. That he would be back before they'd leave for the last time. Those words bounced around in Jack’s head, wondering when that will be. Whether as enemies or as friends, it didn't matter to Jack. He only wanted his friend back, and to make Sombra pay for what he'd done to all of them. But he just couldn't tell his friends what Ryan had said to him. Maybe Ryan said it just to him for a reason. This way, expectations were reasonable. And no one will be disappointed by the endgame.

Chapter 11: Trust

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Canterlot

Two hours later

“Kidnapped?” Celestia reeled back in surprise. It had only been about twenty minutes since the story about what happened began. Night had already began its swing, ending the day time.

The Crew, including Geoff, had a uniform, but more subtle reaction to the words coming from the lunar sibling’s mouth. The Mane 6 were absent and sent home for rest since today’s images and sounds still haunted them. They all had agreed to take a week off on their daily lives to spend time together and attempt coping with what was done and seen today. Jack had been prepared with the full intent on laying everything out before the princess of the sun exactly as it happened. When Luna began speaking, however, Jack was taken fully aback.

“They fought valiantly,” Luna continued her spiel without a hiccup, “But they were powerless when Sombra slew Twilight’s own brother, she fled in fear that her rage may affect those she did not intend to harm. After that, Sombra bound and captured the human we spoke of.” Luna brought her head down and shook her head, squeezing her eyes shut, “We… I have failed you, sister. We lost the scroll’s power and, more importantly, the human attached to it.” Luna looked over her shoulder for a moment to catch a glimpse of the surprised but solemn looks in the Crew’s eyes. Celestia only hummed a small bit and slanted her lips. The Crew all thought she was taking this grim news rather well.

“You haven't failed me, sister.” She said to her bowing sibling. She lifted her head a little bit more to face the Crew behind the indigo alicorn. “You humans haven't failed me either. And I mourn for the loss of you all. It is not easy losing someone you love, especially right in front of you. Trust me, I can empathize.” She quickly glanced at her sister, recalling that fateful day over one thousand winters ago. Geoff twitched at that comment, and began to fade slowly from Jack's side to the back of their group. He didn't want to blow their cover that came by surprise, as Luna seemed to be up to something. He could already feel his body weighing down on him and he just wanted to sleep more than anything.

“Thank you, princess.” Jack answered for the group, trying his best to act like their friend may be being killed as they spoke. “It means… a lot coming from you.” Celestia closed her eyes and gave a small nod before reopening her eyes once more. Luna finally brought her head back up after the extensive bow, mist forming at her eyelids.

“I'm sorry for everything that has occurred today and hate to interrupt the mourning, but we still have a pressing matter at hand.” Celestia lightly stamped her armored hoof, “Sombra is still running rampant across the cosmos. We need a sixth scroll holder to disassociate Sombra from this plane of existence when he arrives.”

The Crew looked between each other. They didn't have a clue what to do. The only six humans on this planet and one was “kidnapped.” The only other option was to have a pony absorb the power of one of the four remaining scrolls. But they wouldn't know what pony would be crazy or patriotic enough to give their life for the greater good. Then again, they didn't really know the full extent of how far these ponies would go if, let's say, the princesses were in danger. They've only known Ponyville ponies. Anything beyond that, they weren't sure. As much as they hated to think it, but they hoped someone would step up, even if it meant their life.

“We believe,” Luna began, wiping the feigned droplets off of her eyelashes, “somepony will volunteer within the week. Should we be pushed to the brink one last time,” she stood straighter and taller than before to emphasize the loyalty that spilled from her mouth in torrents, “then I will absorb a scroll.” Celestia’s eyes grew into saucers.

“Luna, that's unnecessary…not to mention foolish...” Celestia said softly but was cut off by Luna once more.

“Sister, please.” Luna almost gritted her teeth. Despite Luna’s earlier performance to seemingly save the Crew from imprisonment for Ryan’s treason, the Crew could tell that she was not lying anymore. This time she was dead serious. “After all we had done one thousand winters before, this act could only begin to atone to the fallacies and faults of a past long written in the pages of age old books. It would be a suffering curse and an insult if we could not give our life for the land we had almost destroyed.”

Celestia winced one long wince. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. For a moment, and only a moment, Celestia actually felt completely inferior to Luna. The fact that Luna would lay down her life for Equestria was valorous, to say the absolute least. Celestia thought about the lives lost throughout generations, and how many were lost in the name of her and Luna’s crown. The lives lost today were of course no different. But once this was all done and over, they would write songs of Luna’s bravery and sacrifice. The humans would have the same. And Celestia herself? She may as well be branded a coward in those same songs.

“If that is what you wish, sister,” Celestia hesitantly said after a moment of silence, “then I have no power to stop you.” She didn't want to say more out of fear that she herself will offer to do the same.

“Thank you, sister.” Luna said with a nod. “And on the last topic of discussion.” She was loud and full of life. As if she had made her first grown-up decision. But Celestia, despite her white coat, felt drained of color from the conversation just had. Celestia tried to mentally straighten up, even if it was for just this final discussion.

“Yes,” Celestia replied, trying not to let her voice crack, “the rune to send you all back home.” The Crew waited patiently to see what she had to say about them going home. “Our soldiers have found the spellbook referenced in the book used to bring you all here. Unfortunately, Magus’ Laws make sending things away from a universe much more difficult than bringing something here.”

“So what can we do to help in the meantime?” Michael asked before Jack could.

“When our translators finish translating and decoding the book’s work, because its contents are encoded to make it much more difficult to read, I will summon you all again to begin the next step. But from the looks of it, there seemed to be three or four main ingredients.”

“Why’s everything gotta take forever to use here anyways?” Gavin complained. Celestia chuckled at the whining Brit.

“Wizards tend to encode dangerous spells and runes, making them harder to read so that not just anypony can use them.” Celestia tried to smile down onto the group when she said this, but found it hard to do so. The Crew and Luna could see that Celestia was forcing herself for some reason. Although, they had a feeling it's because of everything they talked about. Twilight’s disappearance, Ryan’s kidnapping, the fall of the Crystal Empire, and finally the rune. None of its had a positive effect on Celestia’s rapidly tiring face. “Are there any more questions?” No answer came after a few head shakes from the Crew. “Then if you'll excuse me, I need to rest for tomorrow’s sunrise.”

Celestia turned around slowly and opened a large double door. Two guards in shining gold armor and wielding lances followed closely behind her. The door shut, creating a lengthy echo throughout the spacious throne room. Once the echo subsided, the Crew and Luna waited where they stood in silence. They all wanted to ensure Celestia was definitely gone before they discussed what had just happened. Once they felt secure, Jack spoke first.

“What the hell was that?” He directed this question towards Luna who had already began turning to face the Crew. “We were gonna tell her the truth and then you lied? Why?” Jack didn't want to come off as aggressive, and he succeeded in the eyes of the Crew. Luna, however, did feel a little bit attacked but quickly brushed it off.

“We know our sister,” Luna said with caution, not caring if she used Old Ponish rules, “and should you five have told the truth, she would have stripped you of the scroll’s power, and locked you all up for treason against the crown as well as insubordination. Your friend, Ryan, would be branded a criminal to the land and its ponies. He would be killed if the chance brought itself. As for the rest of you, should we have succeeded in defeating Sombra, my sister would maybe have you executed for your crimes. We, on the other hoof, would believe that you are our only chance to survive this.”

“She's not like that though.” Michael argued, racking his memory of Celestia’s character. “She's understanding and caring.”

“For the ponies of Equestria.” Luna added. “Anything that can do any remote damage to the land or its ponies, she makes sure it’s… quelled.” Michael shook his head in disbelief. Times like this gave him clarity on what he should trust from the show.

“Other ponies would step up though.” Ray responded quickly. “You guys don't need us. It’s just more convenient that we don't die when you take these powers from us.” Luna hoped something like that would never needed to be said, but here Ray was, saying it loud and proudly. It was as if he knew Equestria’s game since the beginning. Luna didn't want to believe it. In a way, it was the truth.

“That may be partially true,” Luna responded with care, “but when you six defended Ponyville out of your own volition and against Princess Twilight’s direct orders, Celestia and I had believed you six may be more than simple pawns on a game board.” Her tone became more caring. “You six put your lives in danger to protect our subjects. The least we could do was not treat you like nothing more than expendables. That’s why we said what we said to our sister. We knew you would tell the truth, so we had to intervene and improvise to save your lives.”

The Crew felt grateful but still worried about being found out. They didn't want Celestia to find out Ryan left on his own until it was too late for her to do anything. Luna did save their lives. They could accept that and all felt indebted to her and planned to pay up at some point. They hoped to pay her back before she'd finalize her choice to volunteer her own life to save Equestria.

“Well,” Jack began to say, “I think I speak for all of us when I say thanks for saving our asses.” He smiled at the end to seal his sweet words. All except Geoff muttered in agreement. Even though he did not speak, Luna could tell Geoff was at least somewhat grateful they would leave the throne room today free and not by chain and shackle.

“You're all very welcome. But I pray thee will carry on my… unforgivable fib?” Worry showed in her voice. “We will make sure there is a private meeting with the soldiers who participated in today’s battle to relay the story told today.”

“Unforgivable?” Michael chuckled, “Didn't you hear Jack, princess? You textbook saved our asses. And you can bet we'll keep that lie going as far as we can get it.”

“Wait,” Gavin interjected, “do we tell Twilight and the rest of them about this?” Luna pursed her lips and looked to the ground. However, it didn't take long for her to decide.

“We believe they are trustworthy enough for this misdirection. Tell them, but beware. The more who know of this, the higher chances there will be to your credibility being compromised.”

“Don't worry,” Jack reassured Luna, “we're not telling anyone else about this other than them.” Luna smiled softly in their direction. She knew she could trust them for more reasons than one. They've shown loyalty, bravery, and perseverance in otherwise intimidating situations for lives not of their own species.

“We thank thee, Achievement Hunters.” She said with enthusiasm and joy in their trust of each other. “Now, if there is nothing more, we must return to watch over our sleeping subjects. Fare thee well.” She began her walk off to a door to the side of the throne room. Once opened and through, Luna shut the door behind her, leaving the Crew alone and to themselves in the throne room.

“So,” Jack sighed and faced his fellow Hunters, “you guys ready to head back?”

All of the Hunters, except Geoff, audibly agreed to leave. Geoff’s agreement was shown by his tailing of the group through the castle. They finally reached the main entrance and began walking down the marble steps.

From here, medical ponies ran back and forth in the main courtyard as they loaded injured from the three airships to carriages that were taking them to the hospital in Canterlot. Lanterns on pikes were placed randomly throughout the mess of tents and wounded, illuminating multiple colors that mixed when they landed on different surfaces. Many of the ponies being transported were unconscious. But those that were conscious either yelled in pain when they had a bone reset, or had wounds disinfected, or other various painful procedures. The whole situation looked like a relief operation.

The Crew weaved through the tents and fast-moving ponies to get to the main gates. They could see all of the injured as they passed by. Some of them waved hooves at the Crew, calling them things like “heroes.” Geoff didn't feel comfortable there as the memory of Shining flashed back into his vision, but he pressed on.

Ray had been near the back of the group, following a chatting Michael and Gavin. They were talking about the tents and their overly bright colors, it seemed. Ray mindlessly stepped and weaved through the crowds of medics until he heard a vaguely familiar voice.

“Ray! Over here!” the voice called. Ray snapped his head in the general direction of the voice’s origin. He panned his eyes across the many faces and could not see who called him. With all the commotion, he deemed the voice his imagination. Before he continued his trek through the encampment, he saw a familiar blonde head jumping and waving a cream colored hoof in his direction. “Stay right there!” they yelled. His confused face grew into a smirk when he realized who was pushing other medics assigned to the camp. The mare finally made it within talking distance of Ray after pushing past the last medic.

“Hey, how's it going? Keen, right?” Ray cooly asked. The next moment he had the wind knocked out of him while she wrapped her forelegs around his waist and squeezed hard. She buried her face deep into his abdomen. “Nice to see you too. Why so huggy?” Ray chuckled. She released her hug and backed up a few feet, her cheeks rosy from her enthusiasm.

“Sorry,” she apologized softly, “I was just hoping you were alright after that whole mess.” She leaned to one side to see around Ray. His friends were waiting patiently for him to finish his conversation with her.

“I'll catch up with you guys at the gate.” Ray said over the background noise of the medical ponies around him. His friends all shrugged and turned to head towards the main gate. Once fully out of sight, Ray returned his attention to Keen.

“Oh I wasn't going to keep you long.” The medical pony concernedly said, “I just wanted to give you some news.”

“Ah, don't worry about them,” Ray ensured with a wave of his hand in the direction his friends went in, “what's the news?”

“Well, I'm receiving a medal!” She excitedly quipped.

“Nice going!” Ray said, raising his hand for a high five. She jumped up and returned his gesture with her hoof.

“Thanks!” She exclaimed, “It’s called the Order of Flash Magnus.” She pulled out a folded paper with her magic from her uniform and unfolded in front of Ray. It floated over to him for him to read it. The official looking paper described her actions and initiative to save all of the injured, including the enemies’. “It was for what we did on the Restless. I wanted to tell you this for two reasons. The first is to thank you for helping me. Not for getting the medal, but to help me save as many ponies as possible.” She finished with a wide smile. Ray only continued to read the paper in front of him.

“‘For valor and bravery.’” Ray read the section of the order out loud. He smiled wider when he finished reading it before handing the paper back to her magical grasp, making eye contact with her. “It was no big deal really. And what was the second thing?” Her eyes widened for a moment, and then cast them to the ground. It was the same ground that her foreleg began to kick.

“The second thing was I was going to ask if you could… attend the ceremony? But I know you might be busy with the whole saving Equestria thing that...” She continued making a divot in the soft dirt. Not for long though before Ray answered.

“Hell yeah I'll show up!” Ray surprised Keen with his enthusiasm. She picked her head up.

“Really? Thank you so much!” She jumped up and hugged him again, to which Ray patted the top of her head.

“Just let me know when and where.” Ray grunted out. She quickly released Ray and backed up again.

“Oh! It'll be at the end of this week back at my hometown just outside Rainbow Falls. With an honor this prestigious from a village so small, Celestia herself signed off on having a new hospital to be built there. They're gonna name it after me!” She stamped her hooves excitedly and gave a boisterous smile. However, her excitement was cut short by a military sounding stallion from behind her.

“Corporal! Enough chit-chat! I need you back on this line in thirty seconds!” The brown stallion yelled.

“Understood!” Keen said back in a voice that Ray was not familiar with. More powerful but still held remnants of her mare-like voice which she used when she talked to Ray, “I'll see you then, right?” She started backing up towards her superior.

“For sure. I'll find my way there.” Ray said progressively louder as she kept backing up towards her post.

Once satisfied, Keen gave a quick nod to Ray. She turned and pushed through the crowd of medics once again and back to her post.

Once Ray regrouped with his friends at the main gates of Canterlot Castle, he found them sitting against the pale stone outer walls. Many of the Canterlot ponies that passed by gave them strange looks. They seemed more curious than anything else. The Crew didn't mind, they even gave waves at anypony that sent them the gesture first. Michael then looked to his left and noticed Ray first.

“Who was that, Ray?” Michael questioned as he pushed himself from the stone wall to his full height. He'd never seen anypony looking anything like Keen. And given the time being here in this strange reality, he didn't trust what the show portrayed the world as anymore.

“Oh she's the little one I was covering on the ship, right?” Gavin quipped, standing up.

“Yeah, she invited me to a ceremony at her home town. They're naming a hospital after her.” Ray responded.

“Cheers, Ray.” Gavin said, holding his fist out to Ray, to which Ray completed the quick fistbump.

“Alright, so are we done here? I'm fucking tired, today sucked dicks, and I just wanna sleep in.” Michael yawned with audible frustration.

The rest of the Crew agreed and kept making their way to the train station. Considering the main street ran perpendicular between the train station and the castle, it was not hard for them to navigate. Their walk was mostly in silence as they each took in Canterlot’s vibrant colors and bright lights. As they walked, they passed restaurants, hotels, clubs, and many other various shops and services. They each thought it strange that there was a class system within such a peaceful species.

Once at the station, they embarked on the next train to Ponyville, which so happened to show up within the next fifteen minutes. They reflected on the days events once again. Ryan’s leaving remained the most prominent in their minds. Michael felt hatred for Sombra. Gavin lay in grief. Ray was frustrated. Geoff bathed in guilt. Meanwhile, Jack obtained nibbles of hope. The train had pulled to the station. The whistle blew prominently as they embarked. Jack knew he'd see Ryan again, he just hoped Ryan would be in the right mind to be reasoned with.

Chapter 12: All the King's Horses

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In a distant place

Ryan could hear the violent magic of the rip in space-time behind him closing. He sighed once again, knowing that going back was on the dull, gray, vengeful stallion that walked slowly next to him. He let his eyes wander across the city before him. Strange, purple, humanoid creatures that stood near his height with only four fingers were being terrorized throughout the massive city. Changelings zipped through the sky, opening fire on soldiers and civilians indiscriminately. The soldiers tried to resist with their advanced, alien weaponry, but with the support of the umbrums, it was a losing battle. Umbrums marched through the avenues and boulevards, using their physical capabilities to smash up homes, stores, and anything else they felt they could break in order to capture more and more lifeforms.

Fires with a mix of black and green dotted the city’s skyline. One very large skyscraper, dwarfing that of the Empire State Building back on Earth in New York, had the top half of itself nearly separated from its bottom half. The top half leaned on a shorter skyscraper, just begging to fall over on top of countless aliens below.

The grass that Ryan could hear crunching under his boot. When he looked down to examine the origin of the sound, he quickly noticed the color. The grass, from its once pure blue nature, had taken on a charcoal black from the fires that Sombra seemed to have raged through it.

“Look, Marauder.” Sombra boasted to Ryan, staring off at nothing particular in the city. “The power we umbrums wield is of a god-like nature. Do you not see?”

“Yeah, I see.” Ryan scoffed, crossing his arms, “Now if you're done sucking your own dick, why don't you tell me what you want from me?” Sombra chuckled heartily before facing Ryan.

“What I need from you is simple. Your full cooperation is all I expect from you.” Sombra informed Ryan straight to the point. “Without that, I will simply slay you, siphon your power, and immediately return to Equestria and destroy everything and everyone. Sadly, excluding your friends who I would send back to your home planet immediately.”

Ryan was musing on the request for cooperation. In the end, Sombra came from a different time. In this time, your word was the most valuable thing you could offer. Sombra would tarnish every inch if his being except his word. Before he consigned his life to either evil or death, Ryan needed to know what Sombra meant by “cooperation.” He could only assume the worst, but proceeded to ask anyway.

“What kind of ‘cooperation’ did you have in mind?” Ryan asked with care, his arms still crossed. His voice carried a questioning tone, but he was really just nervous to find out the answer.

“It’s quite simple really.” Sombra said with a wave of his hoof. Ryan swallowed, anticipating the answer. “I need you to assist me in reaping the souls of these planets. The more we kill, the stronger these become.” The five crystals around his neck levitated with emphasis. To Ryan, it seemed like they grew “brighter” every time he laid eyes on them. “I need you to be my weapon. To crush militaries under our boot. I am saving the power held within these crystals to be used on those wretched sisters in Canterlot.” He snarled when he mentioned the princesses of the Sun and Moon. “So, I need a... reaper, if you will. You are that perfect fit.”

Ryan’s eyes remained on Sombra’s as he mentally hated himself for being nearly correct on his own prediction of Sombra’s need for him. He turned his head to see the burning city leaving the faint taste of copper and soot in his mouth. He was backed into a corner. The duality of saving the very few or none at all. He thought the choice would be easier to make if he didn't have to have a hand in Sombra’s wicked evil. He would only be fighting armed combatants, which He could deal with to some extent. He finally decided, regretfully, on what his answer should be.

“Fine.” Ryan responded firmly, sounding nearly defeated, “But you can bet I’ll hate every second of all of this.” Sombra smiled at Ryan’s response.

“If you believe that to be true,” Sombra paused, thinking about his next move until finally making that decision, “then take this.” One of the five crystals around his neck detached and floated in front of Ryan.

“Uhhh, why are you giving me this?” Ryan raised an eyebrow as he took the humming crystal into his hand. As soon as his skin made contact with the smooth crystal, he felt calm. Almost blissful. With fire raging and screams falling away in the distance, he felt at ease amongst it all. “What is… going on? Why does everything feel...weird?”

“There are two reasons I gave that piece of me to you.” Sombra’s smile shrank, but was still present, “The main reason being that you can feel more comfortable doing my bidding. As I can already tell, it is working better than I predicted.” Ryan didn't respond, his head beginning to swim. “The second reason being a sign of trust. Between you and I.”

Ryan was slowly adjusting to the effects of the crystal. It felt like a drug. Behind Sombra, he saw something he didn't expect. Silhouettes of his friends sitting down. Their arms extended as if holding Xbox controllers. Sombra had begun to fade away with the sounds if the burning city and was left with these silhouettes. Then color and texture bled in slowly. Their faces taking shape and the room he was in becoming more apparent until fully in view. It was the Achievement Hunter office. Just like they left it. Next thing he knew, he was sat on the couch just behind Gavin’s chair, Xbox controller in between his own hands as well.

Sound was the last thing to fade in. His ears feeling like he was thousands of feet up. Dazed, he finally began to hear his friends voices come to full volume.

“Ryan? Ryan! You alright?” A British accent exclaimed to his right. He quickly shook himself from his daze. His friends were all leaning back in their chairs staring at him, except Geoff who fully turned his chair towards Ryan from across the room. Gavin, leaning back in his chair, had his hand on Ryan's shoulder, still shaking him awake.

“Wha…?” Was all Ryan barely managed to get out. Gavin stopped his nudging once Ryan spoke. “What's… going on?”

“You kinda fell asleep during a Let's Play.” Michael chuckled.

“I did?” Ryan had no clue what happened. One second they were doing a heist on GTA and Ryan was helping Ray mow down cops, and the next thing he knew he was staring at large, red letters on the screen reading out the word “WASTED.”

“You sure you're alright, Ryan?” Jack asked, not looking from his screen but pushing away the mic so the recording didn't pick up the question, “You didn't look too good coming in today.” Ryan rubbed the back of his neck anxiously. Like dread hung in the air. But he didn't know why.

“Yeah, I just haven't been sleeping well lately.” Ryan said, still rubbing his neck. He didn't know why he said that, considering he can't remember waking up that morning, or going to sleep altogether. His friends all gave each other a shrug and continued their Let’s Play.

Since Ryan was dead, he didn't speak as he ghosted. He used this time to remember what he'd done that day. Nothing came to mind, but it's like he already knew what he'd done today. Like the memories were present, but not visible. He could recall an instance, but only when provoked. There was another moment of silence as he put his head into his hands and tried to recall everything. But he was shaken awake by another hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, buddy,” Geoff said, giving Ryan two stern pats on his shoulder, “we're gettin’ lunch at that new bar that opened up. You coming?” Ryan looked behind Geoff to see the office chairs empty, and the voices of his colleagues outside the office chatting in the lobby.

“What about the Let’s Play?” Ryan asked, turning off his Xbox and standing up.

“We finished like ten minutes ago.” Geoff said with concern, “You sure you're alright, man?” Ryan thought about the continuity of things and couldn't tell how long he'd been out. He'd only placed his head in his hands right at the beginning of the Let’s Play, and all of a sudden they're getting lunch. After thinking for a few seconds, he had an idea.

“How long was the capture?” Ryan asked, as he squeezed by Geoff and walked out the door into the lobby. Ray, Michael, Gavin, and Jack all had started to head outside through the bright, glass doors of the main entrance to the building. Ryan squinted and shielded his eyes with a raised hand at the abnormally bright sunshine.

“I dunno.” Geoff shrugged, stuffing his hands into his hoodie pockets, “like an hour? Give or take ten minutes.” They pushed open the main doors and walked outside. The light almost seemed to swallow Ryan up. It didn't make sense to Ryan. He died about fifteen minutes in and then left his head in his hands for around forty-five minutes. The only way he could describe it was as such:

He was losing time.

He couldn't consciously comprehend it when he awoke again, but in a circular booth of what seemed to be a bar in downtown Austin. A roast beef sandwich sat in front of him, half eaten, accompanied by a Diet Coke. He sat at the edge of the booth’s seat, the rest of the Achievement Hunters populating the inner workings of the booth. They all seemed to be talking about the rest of the work day. Cracking jokes and having laughs. Everyone had a beer sitting next to their plate, excluding Ryan.

He felt frustrated. His life was just flicking by like PowerPoint slides with no animation. Everything was just...happening. His episodic memory was as if it had a mind of its own. It had to stop, and Ryan knew it. Before he'd know it, in one blink he'd be ninety years old on his deathbed.

“Hey, Ryan,” Ray said, chuckling from his right, “tell everyone what happened this morning when you got out of your car.” The other Achievement Hunters collectively agreed and began to attentively listen to Ryan.

“Uhh, yeah. This morning…” Ryan nearly trailed off, but his mouth was moving on its own now. He could not hear his own voice, but he was telling a story he recalled but could not remember. As he continued telling the story, a smile grew on his face as the story neared its unforeseeable punchline. Everything sounded distant. The noise of the bar, his friends’ laughter after the punchline had been said, his own voice. He felt his eyes get heavier as he closed them to laugh along with his friends.

Ryan knew if he closed his cursed eyes, he'd end up somewhere else, with no clue as to when or where he was. He looked around frantically, trying to find something to anchor him to this moment. Geoff’s curled mustache, Gavin’s comedic nose, Ray’s fingers around his pilsner glass, Jack’s rising and falling beard from laughter, Michael’s abundance of tattoos.

Nothing worked. His auto piloted self continued to laugh and nearly close his eyes to flip to the next time period to slowly lose more control of himself. It all felt like a dream, just outside of comprehension. His cries for help didn't work. His desire for movement was inconsistent with his actual movements.

Inconsistent…, he thought.

He looked once more to his right. A last ditch effort really. Everything was so real. Everything felt as it should.

Except…

He seized control, snapping his eyes wide open, stopping his automatic laughter. He released a breath he didn't know he held. His hand, with great speed, gripped Ray’s wrist right next to him. Ray was halfway up with taking another sip of his drink when he was abruptly stopped by a heaving Ryan. Ray jumped in shock and confusion. The noise within the table came to a sudden halt as everyone focused on Ryan’s sudden action. Some of the translucent, gold liquid within Ray’s glass spilled onto the table.

“What the hell, Ryan?” Ray exclaimed, trying to yank his wrist away from Ryan’s grip as best as he could with the large glass still in his hand. Ryan controlled his breaths, still clutching to Ray’s wrist. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and exhaled.

I am awake, aware, and in control.

To respond to Ray, and to the illusion he figured out before him, he opened his eyes and said only one word with a triumphant smirk smeared across his face.

“Gotcha.”

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

In a flash of the colors of sunset, everything came to him once again. White quickly gave in to the crimson and amber of a setting sun. No longer in the bar, in the office, or in the lobby. He was here, in front of a separate species from when he first joined Sombra. These people were also humanoid, but of a sickly green color. Their skin looked rough but slimy. They gave off a sweet scent, contrasting their hideous look. And Ryan had an axe primed at the neck of a soldier-looking being of the species.

It spoke to Ryan in a language he could not understand. Clicks and alien noises protruded from the being from sources unknown to Ryan. He looked over his shoulder and widened his eyes at the sight. Bodies of the green alien species’ soldiers were strewn about the streets. Smoldering vehicles, absent of wheels using what seemed to be hover technology, lined the streets. These same vehicles seemed to have been blasting buildings on upper floors adjacent to the street. Even in death, the species excreted scents of jasmine that assaulted Ryan’s nostrils.

Was I really this much trouble? Alone?..

When he returned his gaze to the kneeling alien still in front of him, the alien forcefully grabbed the axe. Ryan did not jump, mostly out of shock. The alien pressed the axe into his own neck, making more strange noises to Ryan. A thick, amethyst liquid began seeping from where the axe was digging itself in the aliens neck. Ryan knew what this thing wanted. To join his slain brethren in whatever afterlife these creatures believed in.

Who was Ryan to deny release?

Ryan trekked through the expansive city. He saw more of the aliens, but they seemed to be civilian. As much as he was physically able to kill an armed soldier for no reason now, he couldn't bring it to himself to even lay a finger on this cowering race. His boots made deep reverberations off of the now silent streets. Occasionally, he'd see an alien cross his path.

One such alien froze in fear. Their eyes turned to saucers when in front of Ryan. As Ryan would draw near, that intensely sweet smell continued to rise once again. Keeping eye contact, Ryan passed the alien. Once past his shoulder, Ryan returned his gaze in front of himself. He didn't know if that alien would ever move from that spot.

~

Ryan had regrouped on the outskirts of the city with the umbrum and changeling armies. The Opal hovered in its place over the encampment. Changelings buzzed about while the umbrums stood around, idle for battle. Ryan searched across the sea of armored ponies until he found who he was looking for.

Ryan began to storm towards Sombra who was off at the edge of the camp. He was too mesmerized by the planet’s horizons, envisioning a world with none of this alien species left alive. Ryan was more than halfway to Sombra’s position when he began to think. Ryan really wanted to give Sombra a piece of his mind for making him an unconscious killing machine. Then again, Ryan had different plans. He smirked, finalizing his plan.

Ryan’s pace slowed from storming stomps to a leisurely stroll. He approached Sombra and stood to his side. Ryan looked out and had to think that this particular planet was absolutely beautiful.

Cascading seas of shimmering teal grass blades, the morning’s few still clinging to the fresh smelling vegetation. Distant spires of a neighboring cite sat patiently in the distant horizon in front of the setting sun. Behind Ryan, the sky took on colors of indigo as the stars began to peek through the intensity of this planet’s twilight. Ryan felt that if he was going to be working with this maniacal stallion, he needed to take in these sights with weight. After all, they're going to wipe it away anyways.

“I see you are back.” Sombra hummed, breaking the silence of their separate admirations.

This better work… Ryan hoped.

“Indeed.” Ryan said darkly. Practice in Let's Plays gave him the ability to sound evil. He never thought it would play such a big role in saving his planet. “However, this planet was hardly a challenge.” Sombra began to chuckle.

“Of course it wasn't. These people are simply sand dunes to be traversed. Nonetheless, they have been vital to fueling these crystals.” He looked towards Ryan. The crystal remained around Ryan’s neck, still feeding him the illusion. Sombra knew it was a sacrifice in his own power, but it ultimately gave him a weapon of military destruction.

“Well then,” Ryan said, drawing his axes, “enough talking. When do we invade the next city?” Sombra smiled widely, enjoying how much control the crystal had over Ryan’s character in such a short amount of time. He deduced that although Ryan himself was powerful, he may have had a weak mind.

“All in good time.”

~

City after city fell. Ryan did feel stronger. While destroying the planet’s military, Ryan only wanted to channel this raw, primal strength towards Sombra and his armies. In fifteen short minutes, he could lay waste to his now small army of umbrums and changelings. But once up against Sombra, there was no winning. And no doubt Sombra would just go back and destroy everything on Equus anyway.

The army lessened in size and strength. Sombra did not account on multiple planets giving a good fight, killing multiple of both types of soldiers. Each battle was an ultimate victory, but he needed something to bolster his ponies. A new planet had just that bolster.

Implementing the use of “siege vehicles,” as Sombra so called them, his troops were harder to neutralize. With a focusing of fire onto the vehicles, his battalions of umbrums could advance into flanking positions invisible to the main defenses. Once here, the umbrums would attack with ferocity and with the element of surprise. Ryan would lead them into these battles. He tried not to hesitate and the crystal seemed to have made this sort of slaughter easier. But inly from before. Now the crystal hasn’t responded since the illusion it casted was broken. The siege vehicles, Ryan had identified as alien tanks, were invaluable to the conquering of planet after planet.

Ryan was becoming desensitized. He would not fall for foot-in-the-door with Sombra, however. At that moment, he'd blow his cover and attempt to eliminate Sombra. But that moment never came. Every planet was the same as the last: crush the military. Ryan believed it was only a matter of time before the next order would be to kill these unarmed, innocent beings. Sometimes, they ran into entire planet's just like that. No fight, no resistance, and no derogatory statements. Only simple cooperation was shown. Some, in their ignorance, even welcomed Sombra and his armies to their planets.

Ryan could only wonder what happened to these non-combatant prisoners of war. One thing he did know, however, is that Sombra himself was getting stronger and stronger every time the military of a planet is obliterated. The air around Sombra’s presence became more and more suffocating to each new foreign alien species that came into contact with him.

The time hadn't been right, so Ryan would keep biding his time. The moment will present itself. He knew he just had to be patient and stomach the seemingly limitless gloating Sombra forced Ryan to endure.

Chapter 13: A Call To Arms

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Ponyville

One week later

After returning to Ponyville from their first large scale battle outside of Manehattan, the ponies of Equestria demanded an explanation. News travelled quickly as, overnight, the nation was at war. The sounds of flak and gunfire rang all afternoon throughout the gargantuan metroplex. For such a massive defensive mission, the Sun and Moon princesses could not lie to their ponies. They would not send such an overwhelming force to deal with a squabbling group such as the yaks or a force of mother nature.

As such, half of the truth was delivered to the ponies. Celestia’s speech was read aloud in all town squares throughout Equestria. The Achievement Hunters gathered with the rest of the ponies in Ponyville to hear it as well. Mayor Mare read it one early morning as follows:

Dear citizens of Equestria,

It is with a heavy heart to inform you that after millennia of peace from major conflict within these borders, the city of Manehattan became the target of an act of war. I also wish to give my condolences to the destroyed city of Fillydelphia. The ponies who lost their lives that horrid day will not be forgotten. Henceforth, a declaration of war is being made towards the offending party: the former Crystal Empire king and his allies, King Sombra. With this declaration, I am hopeful that you, citizens of Equestria, will cooperate towards the common goal of aiding the war effort by joining the ranks of the Royal Guard. Enlistment is open to ponies or otherwise, mare or stallion, who have passed their fourteenth winter. Request for combat roles must have passed their eighteenth winter. All skills are welcome. Enlistment stations are, as I scribe this announcement, being established throughout each city, town, and village. I pray my subjects will answer Equestria’s call to arms in these trying hours.

-Princess Celestia

The Crew watched the mayor as she stepped down from her podium. The ponies scattered around the square began mumbling to each other. Some were whispers of actually enlisting, while others were of panic at the impending tide of war. As the ponies began to disperse, the Crew could see the small line of ponies forming adjacent to the podium.

A table had been set up next to the podium. This table had a Royal Guard captain with his helmet sitting on the table, allowing his shortly cut amber mane to be exposed. Alongside him were two lower ranking guards, standing by to quell any problems that could potentially arise. One by one, ponies answered the captain’s repeated three questions: “Name? Last winter passed? Skills to offer?” Occupations ranging from bakers and florists up to blacksmiths and mercenaries were quilled on a parchment register by the gold clad captain. Although many offered various occupations and skills, Geoff silently knew many would be sent with spear or sword in hoof to fight off the unknown amount of umbrums and changelings.

A week of self-rehabilitation later, Geoff was closer to his old self. He had decided it’d be best to stay with Applejack and Ray instead of inside Twilight’s castle. Too many memories in such a small amount of time were made there. Spending long hours on Applejack's farm helped clear his mind. Since Applejack took the week off, despite her protests, to unwind from the incident earlier in the week, Geoff took over her responsibilities. Within a couple of days he was talking once again. A couple days after that, he was laughing once again. He had grown close to the Apple family, hoping he wouldn't regret that choice later and relive the entire Twilight incident only a week earlier.

With Twilight in mind, Geoff remembered that a day or two ago, Twilight reappeared in her castle. Spike had let Geoff know that Twilight hadn't left the library unless she was to sleep or bathe. Spike also noted that she had not spoken to him at all of where she'd been, what she was doing, or what she plans to do next. He described her as if she were in a catatonic state.

Geoff could understand why she was doing this. He chose the same type of outlet, except his was more hard labor. Burying yourself in work can distract you from the problems and hardships life enforces on you. Geoff knew this too well and was not surprised to see Twilight doing the same. Once she feels better, he made it his top priority to talk to her and attain some much needed closure.

~

Dinner around the Apple family table had commenced that night as usual. Applejack came home from her last day off, anxious to get back to work on the farm. She normally sat next to Big Mac’s usual seat at the head of the table. Applebloom set the table. Once done, she sat opposite of Applejack’s seat, eagerly waiting for the food Applejack and Big Mac were preparing to serve. Granny Smith, too old to perform the serving or cooking of the food, sat next to Applebloom. Geoff took his own regular seat at the foot of the table. With Ray off to Rainbow Falls, the seat to Geoff's left was empty. Because they still considered him and Ray the “guests,” they never participated in the ritualistic setting of the table.

Once the food was served, he took a close look at the bowl before him. It looked like gumbo to him, but he could see soft apple slices poking up from the sweet looking broth. He thought he'd be tired by now of the apple-focused diet that this family served nearly every night. However, he didn't know how much can be done with apples and a little creativity in this world. The family and their guest dug in once the food had been served. A minute of silence passed as they ate, seeing how the food came out. After the minute, Applejack wiped her mouth and focused her attention to Applebloom.

“Alright, Applebloom,” she said, “how’s school been goin’ for ya?”

Geoff looked up from his bowl to listen to the conversation. Applebloom, according to Michael had gotten much bigger since the Nightmare Moon incident eight winters ago. Now almost Applejack’s size, Applebloom was growing fast.

“It's been okay.” Applebloom responded, clearly more interested in the bowl before her. “Same old, same old…. Ooh!” She perked her head up, “They had one of them royal guards come in and talk to our classes about the recruitin’ thing happening all over. Scoots and Sweetie said they wanted to join and help any way they can.”

Big Mac widened his eyes slightly at Applejack, spoon still in his mouth. She gave him a nearly invisible nod. Geoff could see where this was going, but decided to stay out of it and enjoy his meal. However, it didn't stop him from listening in.

“Now, sugarcube, ah hope you're not thinkin’ of joinin’ up with the guards there.”

“Why not?” Applebloom retorted with low volume, lowering herself to a slouch. She began picking at the contents of her bowl with her spoon. “Scoots and I are passed our seventeenth winter and Sweets is about to. How come they can do somethin’ like that but ah can't? Ah'm sick of workin’ on the farm. Not only would I be helping everypony, but I might find something I like to do.”

Geoff kept his head down and in his food. He glanced at Granny Smith to see her take, but she seemed oblivious to the whole conversation. Too many times Geoff has seen this conversation with parents and their kids back home. It was strange to see sister and sister though. He was thinking he should give some advice, but again decided to let them deal with it constructively.

“Ah know you wanna help and all, but-”

“So why won’t you let me?” Applebloom raised her voice a little bit. “You're always going on about helpin’ everypony, even if it means nopony’s lookin’. Now that ah have the chance to, you won’t let me. What if that's what mine and the girls’ cutie marks mean?” She glanced down at her flank to see the magenta apple enclosed by the shield shaped crest. “Maybe that's what my cutie mark is really about?”

The table went totally silent, with the exception of Geoff’s spoon occasionally tinking along the edge of the bowl. Applejack cast her gaze to the table around her own bowl, almost unsure of how to respond. Big Mac only looked at Applejack expectantly. After a minute passed, Applebloom got her napkin and threw it on top of her bowl. She stepped down from the chair, clearly frustrated, and walked away.

“Ah lost my appetite.” She said flatly as she disappeared around the corner leading to the staircase. Geoff watched her the whole way. Once gone, he returned his eyes to the conflicted Applejack, who now had a hoof to her forehead. Big Mac only sighed as he returned to his meal, slower than usual.

Geoff couldn't help but feel for them. At the same time, he could feel for Applebloom. Her desire to help took precedence in Geoff’s mind. He stood from his chair and took the bowl to the sink. After thanking Big Mac and Applejack for the meal, he made his way upstairs. His guest room was at the far end of the hall, across from Ray's guest room. He and Ray would need to pass by each family members’ room before their own. But before he returned to his room for sleep, he stopped at the first wooden door on the right. He gave the door a couple light taps with his index finger. He heard a muffled “go away,” as if the filly's face was buried in fabric.

“It's me. Geoff.” Geoff responded lightly. There was silence. He reached for the doorknob and lightly twisted, but it stopped before he could start. Locked. However, he could hear her whimpering become more audible until it was just on the other side of the door. He heard a click on the knob, then the whimpering receded back to their muffled state. He reached again for the knob and twisted. It fully turned, allowing him entrance to the filly’s room.

Although he'd helped her with her homework and projects she had for school, he'd never been in her room. It didn't look like a filly’s or a colt’s room. It looked like his own guest room: simple with essentials. He looked at the bed to see the filly in question with her face buried in her pillow, silently whimpering. He took a seat at the foot of the bed, trying not to disturb her sobbing. Before he could think of anything to say, she spoke between sobs from the confines of her pillow.

“Why won’t she...let me do… this?” After saying that, she visibly began to calm down. Her trembling became minimal and she raised her head from the pillow, wiping away tears with her forehoofs. She avoided eye contact, as she felt ashamed of her childlike reaction to the situation. Tears ran down her face in drops, as opposed to the torrents that obviously streamed down her cheeks just a few minutes earlier.

“Well…” Geoff began to think. Applejack was sort of the mother figure here since their parents’ location was unknown to the Crew. He tried putting himself in her shoes. An easy task considering his own daughter. “she cares about your safety. She only wants what's best for you.” Applebloom took in a deep breath and let it slowly, composing herself to speak.

“Ah know this is dangerous. Ah'm not a stupid little filly anymore. Ah can handle myself. And besides, ah won't be doing any fightin’.” She looked up at Geoff. “Ah just wanna do what ah can to help the ponies who are fightin’. Like you and your friends.” Geoff could understand her. That drive to assist others in need of it. He couldn't turn it down himself. The obligation and commitment burned something fierce in Applebloom’s eyes when Geoff looked into them. “Ah just want my sister to understand too.”

“I see. She'll understand at some point. Trust me.” He said, turning his eyes to the floorboards then returning them to the eyes of the growing mare before him. “Well, when you join…” Applebloom chuckled a small bit at his use of the word “when.” Geoff smiled a small smile at her change in mood. “what are you thinking they're gonna have you do?” Applebloom put a hoof to her chin and thought. She had the strength to do heavy lifting and hard work. Working on a farm her whole life made her the strongest in her school class. Even stronger than most of the colts there.

“Ah don't know, honestly.” She responded, truly unsure of what they'd have her do. She continually wiped away whatever dried tears remained on her face, her eyes puffy and red from crying. “Ah've been workin’ the farm ever since ah was old enough to pick up my own toys. They might have me do some heavy lifting.” She jumped up with excitement and stood on her bed. “Ooh! Think they'll let me work on one of those airships you told me about? Ah can move bales of hay from the ground to the top hayloft! Same as moving those big boxes of bullets for the guns on the ship.” Geoff patted her head as he shook his own.

“Let’s not get crazy here.” He said, with a smile. She only pouted for a moment before Geoff reiterated the battle from the past week. “Remember how the other airship from the Crystal Empire showed up?” She nodded her head. “Well it nearly tore apart the the airships we had. The last thing I think they'll have you do at your age is be on one of those. And that's the last place I think anyone in this house wants you.” She shrugged at the retelling of the event.

“Well, if they don't have me on an airship, then ah guess they'd have me at Canterlot doing somethin’ where it's safe, right? Last thing ah want is for my family to worry about me.” She sat back down, looking up at Geoff again.

“Sounds about right.” Geoff said as he confirmed the logic. She was still months away from reaching her eighteenth winter, so they'd probably put her in a support role, away from combat. All he hoped was that the military here would only put her in a combat position with her own consent once she hit her eighteenth winter. And that she would have the brains to remain in the support role. “Want me to talk to your sister about the plan?”

“No.” She said sternly. “Ah gotta do it. Otherwise, she won't see me as a grown up mare. She'll still see me as a filly who can't fight her own battles. But thank you for offering, Geoff.” She jumped up and threw her forelegs around Geoff’s neck, pulling him in for a hug. Geoff returned the hug, patting her back.

“I'll be behind you on this.” Geoff said over her shoulder.

Applebloom broke away and quickly sped out her door, down the staircase and out of Geoff’s sight. Geoff stood from the bed and left her room, closing the door behind him. He could already hear faint discussion from downstairs. Deciding to mind his own business, he made his way to the guest room, shutting the door behind him.

Luna's moonlight broke through his window, giving him just enough light to navigate his room. He laid his body down onto the bed. The coming summer made the air warm, as he never needed to make his bed from the covers’ use. He placed his hands behind his head, looking at his armor and his claymore in its sheath leaning against the nightstand across the room. He thought continuously about his own friends, except more so before he slept. He even got to thinking about the ponies in Equestria. However, the same thought passed through at least once per night: how could they save everyone without Ryan?

Geoff closed his eyes as he pondered the question again for the hundredth time this week. He didn't know if a pony would step up to take Ryan's spot. They are fresh out of humans and only have their own ponies to think about taking Ryan's place. He knows Luna would take the spot, but afterward…?

Tap tap

Geoff raised himself quickly from the bed, startled. The moon was higher now, as it began to drip off of the side of his bed to reach the floor. He had slept for some time, maybe an hour or two. He stood up from the bed and opened the door where the source of the tapping came from. Once open, he was met by a stetson-less Applejack, her eyes looking off somewhere to her right. She mustered up the words and made her eye contact with Geoff.

“Sorry, to bother you this late.” She spoke softly, hoping not to wake anyone.

“Don't worry about it.” Geoff said lightly as well. “What'd you need?” He asked this, but already knew what topic was coming. They were far enough away from Applebloom’s room to discuss this.

“Ah just wanna know somethin’.” She nearly whispered. “Applebloom was one pony goin’ up the stairs and then a totally different pony comin’ down. Ah just wanna know: what'd you tell her?” Geoff didn't peg the question as an upset one or one of annoyance. It seemed to Geoff that this may be her way of asking for advice more than anything else. He leaned on the door frame as he answered.

“Look, as a father, it becomes clear to you that what makes your child happy is what matters most.” Applejack’s face vaguely showed attentiveness, her eyes glazed and now pasted to Geoff, listening with great care. “You spend their first eighteen years raising them. When the time comes for them to make that first major decision, all you can do is rely on the hope that you raised them well. That you raised them smart enough to make the right decision. As a parent, you get behind them, support them as they go. If they don't like what’s there, you leave yourself open for them to come back and try again.” Applejack nodded, but remained quiet. Geoff realised he hadn't really answered her question but was merely prefacing. “What I told her was just that. That I was behind her on it.”

“Ah get that.” Applejack said, still unsure if that was really all Geoff could have told her little sister. “But ah just don't get why she was so… mature, just then. Like ah was talkin’ to a mirror or something.” Geoff chuckled at that.

“It’s because Applebloom looks up to you.” Geoff responded. Applejack scoffed.

“Well of course ah know that.”

“Then why do you think she seemed just as stubborn as you down there?” Applejack remained quiet, accepting what Geoff was getting at. “When I told her,” Geoff continued, “that I was behind her on joining up, she felt security. That security gave her the confidence to stand up for herself. Get me?” Applejack nodded, her eyes now becoming interested in the floorboards. She cursed herself mentally for not seeing something so obvious. She knew Applebloom was smart enough, now she was just accepting to let Applebloom go to do what she wants.

“Yeah, ah get ya.” Applejack returned her gaze to Geoff. “So what should ah do to make up for gettin’ on her keister at dinner?” Geoff was quick to answer.

“Take her to the recruitment table tomorrow. Don't ask if she's sure about it. And let her do the talking.”

“That's all? Ya think?”

“That's all.” Geoff raised his fist from his side, extended towards Applejack. She was unsure if that was enough for Applebloom to forgive her older sister, but Geoff seemed confident that it would work. Applejack smiled, returning the gesture with her own hoof. “Think it's time for us to get some sleep?”

“You're right.” Applejack agreed, “Ah’ll take her tomorrow in the mornin’ so we can be back in time for lunch. Thank you, Geoff.” She gave him a nod and began making her way to her own room.

“You're welcome.” Geoff whispered just loud enough for the cowpony to hear him. He shut his door once more for the night. Returning to his bed, he hoped the best for Applebloom and her friends. They all seemed eager to jump in and help. That drive, he thought, would take them far. As long as they worked as a team, they may have better luck than his own handful of friends. Drifting off to sleep, he dreamt of simpler times back in the office. He always wondered if the guys dreamt of things like that as well.

Chapter 14: Ray at the Falls

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Rainbow Falls

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.

Chapter 15: Patient

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Rainbow Falls

In front of the new Keen Heart Medical Center

“I gotta hand it to you guys.” Ray exclaimed to Keen, “You guys really know how to set up for things like these real quick.” He recalled the ceremony for him and the rest of his friends in front of Ponyville.

Ray scanned the area surrounding the hospital. Countless wooden chairs were lined up in neat rows for ponies that so happened to want to watch the ceremony. Many ponies had already begun taking their seats. According to Keen, much of the population of Rainbow Falls would attend. The rather large stage at the base of the small staircase leading up to the hospital's front entrance became the center of attention. It was hard not to notice. Streamers lined the edges of the stage as well as streamers connecting between the poles at the corners of the stage. It was pretty basic decorations, as Ray had seen what Pinkie was capable of in shorter amounts of time.

“Magic helps a lot with this kind of stuff.” Keen responded, also examining the decorations. To Ray, Keen seemed to be standing taller. He couldn't tell if it was the uniform or the event, but she looked like a totally different pony. “Oh! I had a seat reserved for you!” She said suddenly in a happy tone. She began to trot down the right-most edge of the chairs with Ray closely behind.

“You didn't have to do that, you know.” Ray said. “I could've found my own seat and I could see you just fine.”

“I know that.” Keen quickly shot back with a smile. They turned left at the very front row. “But I wanted to be able to know where you are, just in case I mess up my little speech so I can refocus.” They arrived to the reserved spot and stopped dead center of the mass of chairs. A row of five chairs had a piece of parchment attached to each back rest. “Which is why I put you next to my family.” She smiled widely, looking at Ray for a reaction. Ray stepped over to read the parchment on the chair. It read simply:

RESERVED FOR:
RAY

Ray let out a smile at this. The chairs to the right of his reserved seat followed the same format but with the names of each of Keen's family members. The stage sat a few meters away from the front row, giving Ray an excellent view of everything on stage. Much like the ceremony at Ponyville, a few chairs were set up behind the podium on stage for Keen, the mayor, and other town officials.

“I wanted them to put your full name,” Keen said with embarrassment, “but i honestly never caught your last name.”

“It’s Narvaez.” Ray answered her, turning his head in her direction with the smile still on his face, to which Keen returned, “And don't worry about it.” He took his seat on the chair and slouched a bit. “You should probably get back there and get ready for the ceremony.”

“Alright,” Keen agreed, “then I'll see you after?”

“Right.” Ray confirmed her question.

Keen gave a quick nod and walked towards the side of the stage with the set of steps. Ray sat quietly, looking around himself. The square in front of the hospital was very spacious. No doubt they will have an ambulance carriage system, using this area as the drop-off. Ponies began to enter the area of the ceremony, taking their seats and chatting amongst one another. Ray overheard many of the conversations: the future success of the hospital, the optimal location the hospital was placed, why it would be named after a medic in the Royal Air Guard, and Ray himself. They questioned his presence, but some well informed ponies silenced their prejudices with the story of how the hospital would be named after Keen.

Once seats began to fill up, a burly yet aged colt in uniform sat down to his right. Ray looked at him with his eyes only and examined the uniform. Much like Keen's, except there was no rank on the sleeves. Instead, epaulets lay flat and sleek on his shoulders with a shining silver star in their center. His ribbon tree far surpassed Keen's by having seven full rows of ribbons. A few medals, indiscernible to Ray, dangled under the tree. The colt noticed Ray's staring and turned to him.

“Hello.” The colt said in an orotund voice, surprising Ray, “You must be Ray.” The colt stuck his hoof out towards Ray. Ray took the hoof into his own hand with a firm shake. “Admiral Skid Heart, retired. I'm Keen's father.”

“I figured, since you're sitting in the seat reserved for her dad.” Ray responded, hoping not to sound too sarcastic. However, Keen's father laughed at this as they released their hand/hoof shake.

“Keen said you had a quick tongue.” He boomed, his laughter dying down, “I didn't think you'd be so comfortable with me right away. Thought I'd have to pull it out of ya.” Ray shrugged, unsure of how to respond to that. “Oh! Let me introduce you to my family.” He stepped off of the chair to clear Ray's view. “My wife, and Keen's mother, Cheri.”

“Why hello, there Ray.” The mare named Cheri said cheerily as she gave Ray a light wave. She had a lemon colored coat and a blonde mane that was obviously the predecessor to Keen's own mane. Her eyes glowed the warmest amber, giving Ray a safe-at-home feeling.

“Hey, Mrs. Heart.” Ray returned her greeting in his signature relaxed tone. He noticed another set of teal hooves adjust right next to Cheri on the adjacent chair. “And who's that hiding over there?”

“Oh!” Cheri exclaimed, turning her attention to the pony sitting next to her. “Terrace, introduce yourself.” A young colt peeked an eye out from behind Cheri, his hazel eye meeting Ray's own eyes.

“Hi…” He said, barely audible. His electrice blue and yellow streaked mane gave off an extroverted vibe to Ray, contrasting the colt's current demeanor. This did nothing less than surprise Ray, considering the cheery and friendly tone Terrace's parents had set for the rest of Keen's family.

“Hey, how's it going, buddy?” Ray said, trying to get the colt to feel a little more comfortable. Terrace only shrugged at Ray's greeting, shifted his eyes elsewhere, and sat back into his seat. Cheri tsked at her introverted son as she turned her attention back to Ray.

“Give him time.” She reassured Ray. “Once he warms up to you, you'll wish he stayed like this all the time!” She and Skid chuckled at her comment on Terrace's personality.

At that moment, Skid hushed his wife's chuckle as a fanfare played, signaling the beginning of the ceremony. Ray looked to see an older mare step up to the podium. Keen stepped off her own chair and moved until she was next to the podium. It was at this point that Ray noticed that all of the seating here in the hospital's square were completely filled. The older mare spoke.

“Mares and gentlecolts, it is my honor as mayor of this great city to be in office at the time of this historical event. Amongst us today is a hero to Equestria and the two sisters. But to us here in Rainbow Falls, this hero will be revered as a legend! Here with us today is said legend, Corporal in Luna's Air Corps: Keen Heart.” Uproarious applause erupted as Keen stood a little taller. Her face showed no arrogance, but prideful as she accepted the applause with a humble heart. The applause were followed by gradual silence. The mayor continued.

“Corporal Heart, born and raised here in Rainbow Falls, showed honor and bravery in her act of valor as her medical instinct did not fail her as she repeatedly subjected herself to injury and death from incoming changeling fire to save the lives of her comrades and enemies. As a reward for such acts, Celestia has given the written order and has authorized Admiral Skid Heart, Corporal Heart's own decorated father, to award Corporal Heart with the second highest honor Equestria can bestow on their greatest heroes in uniform. So, if you will, Admiral?” She looked down at Skid with a smile, motioning for him to come onstage.

Skid did not hesitate as he stepped off of his chair and trotted up the stairs to the stage and stood in front of his daughter. He tried his best to hold his smile back, as his daughter stood at attention before him, awaiting her award. The mayor brought a polished, wooden box over to the pair with her magic opening the box to reveal it's contents. Skid lifted the medal out with his hoof. A platinum medal shaped like the fireproof shield Netitus with a likeness of Flash Magnus engraved in the shield's center. The ribbon the medal hung from had a simple crimson and white scheme, the division of the colors running straight down the middle of the ribbon.

“It is with great pleasure to award such an elusive medal to a soldier with air filling their lungs still, and them standing on their own four hooves. Of all of the Airponies who had come before that I had awarded this medal, it is with great luck and love that my own daughter would be the first to see her own ceremony.” He choked up at the thought, as he knew the danger she had to endure to receive such an honor. He began pinning the medal under Keen's ribbon tree. “Such acts tend to go unsung. Heroes die voicelessly in every battle. But I expected nothing less than the acts my daughter committed that day and for her to come home unscathed. Congratulations, Corporal.” He concluded his little unscripted speech and finished pinning the medal on his daughter's dress coat. Applause erupted once again. He stuck a hoof out to his daughter, to which she took in her own with a hearty shake.

“Thank you...sir.” Keen responded hesitantly, unsure if to call him “dad.”

Keen trotted to the podium as Skid stepped to the side and out of Keen's spotlight. She mounted the podium, looking briefly at the speech she had prepared in front of her. She glanced at Ray who gave her an exaggerated smile with two thumbs up. She giggled under her hoof, regaining her composure. She swallowed and cleared the knot in her throat. As she opened her mouth to speak, she was interrupted by a deep rumble in the distance.

*BOOM*

Ray, along with every other pony at the ceremony, looked off to the direction he believed the sound came from. Sure enough, black smoke had begun to crest the sheer cliff that Rainbow Falls clung to. Ray stood quickly and began a hasty sprint to the source of the sound. He leapt onto the building in front of him and cut the runtime in half by traversing the rooftops, slowly climbing his way up the plateau, building by building.

Once on ground level on top of the cliff, the railroad tracks extended into the direction of the smoke's source. In the distance, he could see a capsized train engine. He rushed forward at inhuman speeds to respond to the disaster before him. He slowed himself as he rounded the main engine wreck. The train's wheels on it's left side seems to have taken a blast from some kind of explosive. Ray picked up on that and immediately drew his estoc. He called out to the jumbled mess of derailed cabins behind the smoldering engine.

“Hey! Anyone there?” Ray called. He noticed that the cabins were windowless and locked up tight. He deduced that this train was freight, not passenger. He sighed in relief knowing the casualties would be few, if any.

In a flash, he raised his estoc and quickly swatted three long knives that emerged from the smoke. He could barely see a humanoid silhouette atop a freight car through the thick smokescreen. The silhouette sent another volley of knives at Ray. He deflected those with as much ease as the first three. The silhouette retreated towards the rear of the train with Ray following closely in pursuit.

Once he broke through the smokescreen, he could see the fleeing assailant a little bit better. A long, ragged, tan, and poorly patched overcoat. A pair of black pointed ears peeked over the high collar of the overcoat. A long, cat-like tail reached under the overcoat. Ray deduced that the assailant was a feline of some sort. He knew he had to know why the wreck was caused and this cat-person was his only way of knowing.

Ray slipped a knife from his wrist pocket into his hand. He hurled the knife at the opposing knife-thrower. It struck the feline in the ankle, causing them to fall and tumble across the car and off the side. Ray hopped off the side of the car and landed next to the grounded cat. As he approached with his estoc at the ready, he saw multiple other train robbers fleeing around the rearmost cars and off of the cliff.

“Well, it seems your buddies left you behind.” Ray said, keeping his distance. The feline said nothing but clutched at their ankle while facing away from Ray. Blood began to form a small pool underneath the injured ankle on the dirt ground. “Need some help?” Ray took a step forward. The feline turned with intense speed as they flung another knife aimed at Ray's eye. Ray quickly dodged and advanced at even greater speed than before. Before the cat knew it, the tip of Ray's estoc was now sitting at their throat. “You done?” The cat looked very surprised at their opponent.

“What…?” They said in a feminine voice. Her eyebrows frowned. “So the rumors are true. The princesses called for barbarians to do their dirty work. No wonder my attacks were brushed off.” She hissed and laid onto her back and simply looked to the sky. She didn't move for a full thirty seconds, Ray's estoc still trained on her. “Well?” The cat questioned.

“Well, what?” Ray responded, confused at the cat's action of lying on the ground and her expectant behavior. The cat looked at Ray with only her eyes and then back at the sky.

“Aren't you gonna kill me? Like in the stories?” She asked, apathetic about the thought of her dying. Her grassy green eyes glued to the clouds and sky above.

Ray sighed as he sheathed his estoc and knelt next to the cat's ankle. He examined the wound and it's overall severity. He deemed it too dangerous for him to remove the knife on his own as he may damage the cat further. He looked back at her face, which remained indifferent with the whole situation.

The cat, unable to stand, felt herself being lifted from the ground. She shot her eyes at the human lifting her in a bridal carry. Ray had begun walking towards Rainbow Falls with the injured cat now in his custody. Pain shot into her ankle for a moment and she hissed, swiping a clawed paw at Ray's face, which he dodged.

“Chill the fuck out, cat!” Ray said, annoyed with her feeble attempts at her getting a shot in.

“Let me down! Now!” She tried to thrash in his grip but kept feeling the stinging pain in her ankle, forcing her to stop every time she tried.

“Nope.” Ray simply replied. “I've got questions for you, and I need you in full health to answer them.”

“And who says I have answers?” The cat shot back sarcastically.

“Maybe the prison cell with a burly and violent pony looking for the next weak thing to pummel into the dirt?” He glanced at the cat that seemed to begin to accept her immobility. “She's probably named Olga.”

“Where are you taking me?” The cat questioned aggressively, ignoring Ray's joke. Ray looked as if he weren't going to answer that question.

A group of medical ponies in the distance coming from Rainbow Falls rushed to the train wreck. Ray continued his stroll until ponies passed him to respond to any injured in the train wreck. Equestrian guards clung closely to the medical ponies that were approaching the train wreck. A couple of ponies brought a brand new carriage for any injured ponies. Ray brought the cat to the carriage and laid her in the back. Ponies pulled her aboard, keeping an eye in the knife that jutted from her ankle. The carriage was pulled away towards the train wreck. Ray looked to see the engineers being pulled from the rearmost car, dazed and confused.

“Well,” Ray said to himself, “at least the new hospital can get going with its first patients.”

Keen Heart Medical Center

Room 428; 4 hours later

Ray sat patiently outside the room the cat of the hour recovered in. Keen sat next to Ray, eager to meet the cat that assisted in toppling the shipment of medical supplies meant for the new hospital with her name. A guard stood watch on the opposite side of the door, ensuring the cat could not get far if she attempted to escape. Keen looked to Ray who was slouched back into his seat, arms crossed. She smiled to herself at Ray's lax personality. She almost envied it, as she was trained to be on her toes for any possible threat to her and her unit.

The door to the room opened and a nurse pony emerged from it. Ray pushed himself off of the chair and stood before the pony. Keen followed Ray and stood herself.

“So can we go in?” Ray asked immediately. He was obviously upset with the fact that the cat and her cohorts were stealing medical supplies from a hospital that had yet to even open. And now the cat in question was its first patient.

“Yes, but be careful.” The nurse pony warned. “She's not very cooperative.”

“Trust me, I know.” Ray responded as he passed the nurse and entered the room. Keen trailed closely behind as she thanked the nurse for her help.

The room had that air of a hospital. That sterile smell that makes a knot in your throat. The cat he had incapacitated several hours earlier lay in a medical bed, her left wrist was cuffed to a metal bar on her bed. Next to her on a separate table on wheels sat a skimpy assortment of greens and sweets on a plate with a glass of what seemed to be juice. The cat looked unamused by Ray's presence.

“Wow. You're so humble, human.” The cat sarcastically shot at Ray. “Come to gloat? Rub it in my face? Try me. I've heard it all.” The cat crossed her arms and gave Ray a hostile look. Ray only chuckled at her attempts at looking tough.

“You know, I like the cats back home better.” Ray stepped over and picked up the small folder with the cat's tiny medical record. “At least those ones don't talk so much.” He skimmed past all the medical mumbo jumbo and looked at the top for a name. The section that would contain a name simply had the word “Patient #00001” in its place. He placed the folder down and approached the bed. “So obviously you didn't tell the nurses your name. So maybe you'll tell me, at least.”

“Bite me.” She stated flatly.

“Alright, so then I'll give you one.” Ray responded. The cat scoffed and shook her head. “How about…Fluff?" The cat shot a wide eyed look at Ray, who could see her distaste for the name. "Yeah, that's it Fluff. What do you think Keen?"

"Oh I think it's perfect." Keen said with a mischievous smirk, catching on to Ray's simple trap.

"Stop calling me that!" The cat, now known as Fluff spat.

"Fitting for such an adorable kitty cat." Keen squeed.

"Want me to show you cute!?" Fluff threatened through her teeth as she raised a declawed paw to show that she meant business. However, Keen and Ray were unfazed as the cat was in no condition to be moving suddenly anytime soon.

"Try it." Keen said, "Where Ray hit you, yeah you're not going to be moving for quite the minute."

"By that," Ray added, "she means a fatass minute."

"Watch me then." Fluff snarled as she threw her hospital blanket off of her body, exposing the wound on her ankle. Bandaged up tight, magic was used to repair the majority of the damage Ray's knife caused. She attempted to jump off the bed but got caught halfway by the cuffs linking her to the medical bed making her yelp in surprise. Her hind legs dangled off the side of the bed.

"Take your time." Ray sarcastically said. "There really isn't a rush, so we got time, Fluff." She simply growled, climbing back into her hospital bed being careful with her wound.

"You wouldn't be so big if your pet human wasn't here, pony." Fluff hissed, crossing her forelegs and looking elsewhere. Ray and Keen exchanged an indifferent glance at each other for a moment, accepting that Ray's pitfall to learn the feline's name didn't work.

"Okay look," Ray began, trying not to antagonize their captive train robber, "we don't want you here any more than you want to be here. So if you just work with us, I can get you out of here sooner rather than later. Get me?" Her wandering gaze snapped back to Ray.

"You think I'd tell you ponies or humans anything?" She seemed firm in her position. "You can just send me to that prison cell."

Ray slowly began believing that this cat was truly a closed book. He thought back to the train wreck. The group that fled from behind the train seemed small. Not only that, but he recalled the same species comprising their whole train robbing crew. A small, closely knit team with a lot of practicing and teamwork had to have pulled it off. Even with one casualty, they had to have planned for one of them going under royal custody. That's when Ray's plan came to fruition.

"Alright," Ray said in submission. "Cell it is. Once you're feeling a bit better, we'll get a skiff down here to take you to Canterlot." Keen looked at Ray in shock at him giving in to Fluff's resistance. Ray turned on his heels and began walking out. Fluff didn't move at all, glad that Ray finally had given up. Keen followed Ray outside and closed the door behind them. Ray didn't stop as he continued down the hallway towards the exit.

"What was that?" Keen asked, looking into Ray's eyes as he had a smirk on his face. "Whatever you're thinking, I hope it works."

"Oh it will." Ray reassures. "I know my own friends would make the same mistake."

Canterlot Prison

Two weeks later

"Fluff" sat in her normal spot in the cell on her bed of hay. She made the small space a home only a week ago after being released from the hospital the day she would enter this cell for the first time. Becoming accustomed to the cramped space very quickly, she knew it would all be in vain. The details of the cell blurred together for that week as she waited patiently for this moment. The thudding of the thick stone on the outside wall of the cell only got louder and more fruitful, chipping away at the barrier. The guard would not make his rounds for another hour or so. Her colleagues had plenty of time.

The first sign of escape showed itself when moonlight seeped through a small hole in the wall after a hearty thud against the wall. The thudding stopped. An innocent voice whispered through the small opening.

"Hey, Runa. Runa! You there?"

"Yup. I'm here Tug." She said back. "Now are you gonna get me out or are we gonna wait till the guard comes back to say hi?"

"Oh! Sorry! Yes, ma'am!" The voice whispered back, flustered, as the thudding continued.

The wall began to give more and more as they continued. The hole got larger and larger until it was about the size of a beach ball. A large cat head stuck through the hole and looked at the lounging Runa.

"Oh! Hi, Runa!" The amber cat named Tug said cheerfully. "Just making sure you can fit through!" Runa smiled at the larger cat.

"Thanks, buddy." Runa stood and moved to the hole in the wall. Without looking back, she hopped through and landed lightly onto a hastily made pulley elevator. She gave a slight grunt and knelt as her ankle gave in.

"Hey, I know you're excited to come back n all, but you still took a knife to the ankle!" Tug worried to her. Her smile returned as she looked up to the cat. He had fur of brilliant amber, striped with maroon streaks. He was also kind of chunky for a cat. For what he lacked in agility, however, he made up for in strength.

"Thanks, big guy." She responded to his worry with care. "For you, I'll take it easy." She stood back up carefully, making sure not to agitate her ankle any more. "What's next?"

"Oh! Yeah!" Tugs jumped, remembering the plan.

He got to the edge of the elevator and simply waved both hands into the distant city towards the rope's beginning. The rope holding the elevator up extended into the lights of Canterlot. Runa couldn't see its source as the lights of the city flooded her natural night vision. The rope began to lower the two cats at a comfortable rate. Without the elevator, climbing down the sheer stone wall of the dungeon would have been impossible. Especially since her cell was so high up.

"I've got to say," she told Tug as she leaned over the edge to see the oncoming ground, "Tac's really outdone himself this time."

The elevator touched down. She hoped over the railing, taking special care as she landed on the rooftop of a castle building. Tug unhooked the rope from the elevator and gave the rope two hefty tugs. The rope shot up to what looked like a ballista bolt high up the castle wall. The bolt was yanked from the wall and it disappeared in the direction of its source at incredible speeds. Once she brought her awestruck gaze back in front of her, she noticed Tug bent over in front of her with his back turned.

"Here, hop on my back." Tug offered. "No offense at all, but your ankle might slow us down."

"None taken." Runa assured her large friend that she understood her current condition. That, and she can hardly bring herself to say no to Tug's face. She climbed onto his back to where she clung to him like a backpack. He leapt to the next roof over and began his path along the rooftops back to their team's rendezvous point.

During this time, Ray watched the entire escape take place from the castle wall. He looked far down at the large cats' bounds from building to building. Once over and past the gate, Runa and Tug became silhouettes against the backdrop of lights the city emitted. Two other silhouettes joined them and it looked as though they began talking.

"Like clockwork." Ray said to himself. As he stepped from the wall and landed on a rooftop after a free fall from the high castle wall. He moved quickly and remained out of sight once he got close enough to have a vantage point on the group of jailbreakers. The group of four cats continued talking. Without warning, they broke into full sprint toward the edge of the town, finishing their escape. Ray followed, unseen.

"And we're off."

Chapter 16: The Shelved and Forgotten

View Online

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."

Disappointment...But..!

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Hello, beloved reader! I am here to say that no, I have not forgotten you or this story! I was recently drawing up plans for future plot and refinement within the story when I was interrupted by some shocking news...

So, as some of you may know, a particular character within my story has just come to light and is now facing outstanding reprimand and removal from Rooster Teeth and, hopefully in the future, law enforcement. Personally, I am shocked and disgusted by such a surprising rise of claims, photos, screenshots, etc. I would like to state on the record that I wish to send my condolences to the true victims of his acts, namely his wife and children, his coworkers at Rooster Teeth, and the community that Rooster Teeth/Achievement Hunter has built. There is no forgiving what was knowingly done by said character. Behavior like that has no place in this fanfiction that I had poured my love for Achievement Hunter into. Reading back on my story doesn't feel right anymore. It feels...tainted.

For him to be such a prominent character in the upcoming chapters and ultimate endgame just for these things to be shown to the community breaks my heart. I can't bear to continue having him even be a part of the story let alone being a crucial character. The amount of work put into my drafts, timelines, and illustrations has now been for naught and it kills me. Not because I feel I've wasted time or anything selfish like that, but because I cannot bring myself to finish this story with such an abhorrent character inside of it. And it breaks the promise I had made to you, the reader, that I would finish this story and be one of the few complete Achievement Hunter stories on Fimfiction. I wish I could give you the chapters that all of you well deserve, but it has become difficult to even type his name. As of now,

This story is retired.

On a lighter note, I have another fanfic in the works. It won't be Achievement Hunter themed so I'm sorry you all won't get the fantastic ending I had planned for this story. Nonetheless, I will try my best to bring better and better caliber work to all of you!