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Game Night 15: Celestia Game Night (Part 3)

By twilightgamenight
Created: 18th December 2020 10:11:08 PM

  1. >Forty-five minutes, a lot of shuffling your way through crowds, and one ice cream stop later – Ponka said she needed refueling – all thirteen of you are being herded into one of the castle’s guest wings. The one *furthest* from the princesses’ personal chambers, you notice.
  2. >Yes, you know exactly where Celestia sleeps.
  3. >You weren’t always the calm and peaceful man you are now. You had *plans*.
  4. >Plans that might still be used if that bitch tries to force you to leave.
  5. >Hopefully, she’ll be too busy to even meet with anypony.
  6. >Besides, from the rooming situation, you assume the princesses are probably ashamed to have a bunch of nerds nerding it up in their castle – down here, they won’t have to see anypony unless they *want* to.
  7. >”So, do we just pick any room we want…?” Twilight asks the servant, heading for the closest door.
  8. >”I am afraid Princess Celestia has already had your belongings delivered to specific rooms. You are free to change the arrangement if you prefer –”
  9. >”No, no, I’m sure it’s fine!” Twilight rushes to assuage the servant’s concern. “Could you point ours out…?”
  10. >You’re not sure you like that pony’s smirk.
  11. >”The princess assumed you two would wish to share a room. It’s right this way.”
  12. >Along the way, you see signs of occupation – apparently your little crew aren’t the only guests. But your guide doesn’t volunteer any information and your princess doesn’t ask.
  13. >The group splits off in twos and threes as they find their rooms – you and Twi are the very last.
  14. >”And is there anything else…?”
  15. >”No… no… we’re good…” Twi dismisses the servant. Somepony – more likely several someponies – unpacked your luggage and your princess only has eyes for your armor.
  16. >You, on the other hand – or hoof, only have eyes for the short skirt and other clothes lain out on the bed.
  17. >”What. Is. THAT?”
  18. >You move closer to the bed, examining the prepared outfit.
  19. “Pretty sure it’s a cheerleader’s uniform.”
  20. >”THAT!?” she screeches, waving a hoof at the armor. “What kind of cheerleaders do you have in that world!?”
  21. >She rears up, flinging her forehooves into the air in exasperation.
  22. >”I didn’t know Bloodbowl had any basis in reality!”
  23. “There’s a note –“
  24. >There is – somepony had carefully placed a faintly pinkish scrap of paper on the uniform.
  25. >”Good, I need something to explain this bullshit!” she growls, shoving you aside with her shoulder to get to the folded piece of paper, though she immediately goes for the costume instead. “What the hell is this?”
  26. >Twi holds up a part of the outfit, her hoof through one of its two loops.
  27. “Looks like a thong.”
  28. >She drops it with a squeal of distaste, finally opening the note and reading it quietly.
  29. >With a shrug, you step away; your little princess’s distraction is a good opportunity to slip into your costume. Just one problem – how the hell do you get in to this thing?
  30. >”No, not that one,” she tells you, not even looking back to see what you’re doing. “Save that for later; tonight is for solo costumes.”
  31. >Ah, well, that rules out Paladin as well, even if you *did* have it with you. Though that reminds you –
  32. “Where’s Rarity? Wasn’t she staying here too?”
  33. >”She went ahead to the con,” Twi answers dully, focused on the note. “I registered us as a group so she could pick up everypony’s badges before the lines got too long.”
  34. “Ah. Makes sense, though it would have been nice to hear how Sweetie Belle’s audition went.”
  35. >”I heard it went well,” comes a voice at the door – the *open* door – apparently neither of you remembered to close it behind the servant. “Oh, sorry…”
  36. >Far too late to give any warning, Celestia knocks gently on the doorframe.
  37. >That bitch.
  38. >”… I should have knocked, shouldn’t I?” the alicorn smirks, walking in uninvited as if she owned the place.
  39. >She does, of course, but you don’t let facts get in the way of your emotions.
  40. “Ye –“
  41. >”No, of course not!” Twilight greets her mentor, throwing the note over the panties to hide them. “I’m so glad you could find time to see us!”
  42. >The elder princess chuckles, looking over to you slyly.
  43. >Is that a wink? Did she just wink at you?
  44. >Your princess doesn’t notice, fidgeting like she wants to throw her legs around Tia’s neck – Celestia’s neck.
  45. >You mean that bitch’s neck.
  46. >Anyway, Twilight is as giddy as a schoolgirl.
  47. >Oooooh, that’s a nice thought. Maybe she’ll be up for a little roleplaying on your birthday.
  48. “Yeah, great to see you, but where’s Luna?”
  49. >”Oh, that’s right! Where *is* Princess Luna?” Twilight asks curiously. “I thought she’d be –“
  50. >”Do not worry, Twilight Sparkle, I am sure she will see you before you leave.”
  51. >Celestia seems distracted, barely paying attention to your little princess – but is she looking at you? Or the armor?
  52. “Yeah, she better.”
  53. >You cross your arms angrily.
  54. “She said she was looking forward to talking with me. There was something we had to discuss.”
  55. >Okay, now she’s *definitely* looking at you. Celestia’s shifts her weight nervously, her wings tucked tight against her sides. Too tight – you recognize the signs from Flutershy’s near-constant state of panic.
  56. >Shit, did she send Woona to the moon again?
  57. >”We both have royal duties to attend to, you understand,” the enemy princess smiles apprehensively, “I am not sure she will be able to see you anytime soon…”
  58. >Her voice is oddly soothing. Hypnotic, even. But it always has been – you won’t let it get to you.
  59. “Tonight, Celestia. I want to see her tonight.”
  60. >”Well, they probably are –“
  61. >You don’t even have to say anything – Twilight sees the set of your body, the look of your face.
  62. “Or earlier, but –”
  63. >Twilight whines slightly, giving you a nudge with her knee.
  64. “– but we’ll be busy until later. Late tonight will be fine – I know she’ll be up.”
  65. >Celestia’s jaw is clenched tight, her mouth just a thin line. Her eyes are darting about the room as if looking for… well, you’re not sure what she’s looking for.
  66. >”Very well,” she sighs. “I’ll let my sister know; surely she’ll eagerly await your return.”
  67. >She takes several steps back in rapid succession, backing clear out of the doorway.
  68. >”Oh, leaving already?” Twilight asks, following her idol slowly. “Don’t you have time –“
  69. >”I’m really *very* busy,” Celestia snarls, backing up further. “I’m sure you are as well. Farewell, Twilight Sparkle. And you as well, human.”
  70. >The princess’s eyes linger on you as she turns, until she jerks her head away with a huff and walks away stiffly with her head held high.
  71. >You kick the door shut behind her.
  72. “Did she seem a little weird to you?”
  73. >”You *always* think she’s being weird,” Twilight complains, picking up the note again. “Well… I don’t *really* know what this is, but if Cadance thinks I should wear it…”
  74. >Your little princess reaches over picking up the thong once more. She stares at it for a second, then gives a slight shake of her head.
  75. >“Come on, Twilight,” she murmurs to herself, “you can do this…”
  76. >Carefully, she reaches back, lifting a hind leg and slowly sliding it on. It’s obviously difficult for her to do, with her forelegs stretching uncomfortably in awkward angles – eventually she lets her magic take over, breathing a sigh of relief when the scant undergarment’s straps are running across her hips.
  77. >”What are you looking at?” she challenges you, fully aware of what you had been watching – just as you are fully aware that she was enjoying being watched. “Start getting dressed!”
  78. “Sure thing.”
  79. >You unzip your suitcase to pull out your floral shirt and cargo shorts.
  80. >A glance back at your marefriend reveals she’s pulling on the skirt – yeah, that’s a cheerleader’s outfit alright. Seems familiar, but you never did pay much attention to sports, be they pony or human. As far as you know, neither does Twilight, so why the heck would Candyass think it would be a good costume for your little princess?
  81. >She’s still struggling her way into the top as you watch – is that blue or purple? You can’t really tell – the fabric seems to shift color as Twilight twists and turns, making the light hit it in different ways. But there are pinkish accents to it, the color almost matching the streak in your princess’s mane.
  82. >You have a more time than necessary to think about the colors – you’re ready long before she is, and so flop into a chair and watch. After all, it doesn’t take long to change into a shirt and shorts. You wish you could do something about your hair, but there’s not really much –
  83. >”Ugh, this isn’t working! Mane’s aren’t meant for this kind of stuff!” Twilight grumbles as she tries to pull her mane into twin-tails. “Still, nothing a touch of magic can’t fix!“
  84. >PFOOF!
  85. >In a flash of purple, her mane instantly rearranges itself into perfect twin-tails.
  86. >”There! Just like Cadance said it should be!”
  87. >Huh. Why didn’t you think of that?
  88. “Sweet. Think you can do me now?”
  89. >”Um…” Twilight looks over her shoulder at you, eyebrow raised.
  90. >Her eyes quickly shift downward, towards her plot, though she can’t really see it with the skirt in the way. You, on the other hand… well… skirts that short may work on human women to cover up everything, if only barely. But definitely not on ponies. Definitely not. It’s more like a funnel, really, drawing your eyes in, blocking out everything that would distract you from the plot.
  91. >And Twi knows it. She knows that you’ve been watching her.
  92. >“Maybe tonight, but right now we really need –“
  93. “My hair.”
  94. >You point to your head.
  95. “Think you can do my hair?”
  96. >”Oh!” She tries to look innocent, smiling unconvincingly. “Sure!”
  97. >PFOOF!
  98. >”Done!”
  99. >And bam. You can’t see anything different, but it sure *feels* different – your face itches and the top of your head has an awkwardness to it that you feel with every movement.
  100. >”Need a mirror…?” Twilight asks, looking around. “I know there’s one here somewhere…”
  101. “Naw, fooket.”
  102. >You stand, shoving your hands into a random pair of pockets in your shorts.
  103. >Damn.
  104. >You check another set – they’re empty too.
  105. >Just like you knew they would be, but still – you were hoping some shades would magically appear.
  106. “One sec –“
  107. >You open the door to your room, poking your head into the hallway and shout.
  108. “HAY PONKA!?”
  109. >”HAY WHAT!?”
  110. “GOT ANY AVIATORS I CAN USE!?”
  111. >She sighs loud enough for you to hear her, wherever she is.
  112. >”DID YOU CHECK YOUR BACK POCKETS!?”
  113. >Of course you hadn’t. You would have felt them when you were sitting – and probably broken them. Besides, you *know* that you forgot to bring any. There’s no way.
  114. “NO! GOT *ANYTHING* I CAN BORROW?”
  115. >”JUST CHECK YOUR BACK POCKETS, IDIOT!”
  116. >That seems uncalled for, but you do it, reaching back with one hand and – oh. Hey.
  117. “OH, COOL. FOUND SOME. THANKS, PONK!”
  118. >Well, *that* was undignified. Hopefully nopony noticed you… screaming… down the hall… to your equally loud friend.
  119. >You step back inside your room and close the door, slipping the sunglasses onto your face.
  120. “Wheal, ah we ready ta do ess?”
  121. >Your little princess is giggling, holding a hoof up over her mouth. Damn. She noticed.
  122. >”What kind of accent is that supposed to be, anyway?”
  123. “Ain’t got nah fooken clue.”
  124. >”I *hope* you’re just getting into character,” she laughs, flipping her mane back. “Come on, let’s go.”
  125. “Coo, wegunna gah meetchur kin nahw?”
  126. >”Um. No. Whatever you asked – no.”
  127. >Twilight pushes open the door and you follow. Some of your friends have begun to gather in the hallway, not a one of them out of costume. At least, you *assume* Applejack is in costume – she’s not wearing her hat and has this weird set to her jaw.
  128. >”Dammit, AJ,” Twilight sighs. “We talked about this. You can’t just go around acting like a retard.”
  129. >”Yeah!” Aredee agree, her eyes twinkling mischieviously behind her spiked red glasses. She knees her friend in the ribs playfully. “Nopony would even know you were in costume!”
  130. >”Fiiiine,” the mare’s jaw relaxes as she grunts. “Ah’ll go whip somethin’ else up.”
  131. >She slinks back to her room as Trixie and Fluttershy tumble from theirs in a clatter of armor plates. Trixie appears flustered and annoyed – probably the perfect look for Lina – you mean Line – Inverse. Particularly the piercing look she gives Fluttershy as the pegasus finds her way to her hooves with another rattle of metal-on-metal.
  132. >That’s probably the most useless suit of armor you’ve ever seen – mostly two spiked shoulderpads that nearly triple the little pony’s width, and a breastplate that barely even covers her ribs.
  133. >”I *told* you that sword was too long!” Trixie growls, even as Fluttershy trips on the oversized scabbard once again. “You should have gone with something –“
  134. >”Something not authentic?” the pegasus barks back. “Do I look like a filthy casual to you?”
  135. >”Just… give me the sword,” Trixie sighs, telekinetically jerking the sword-belt off of the other mare. “First, let’s try rearranging it this way…”
  136. >The sheath floats up, rebuckling itself so the sword rests between Fluttershy’s wings.
  137. >”But that’s not how Gory Garble wears it!”
  138. >”She has a point,” Berry Punch asides to Pinkie Pie, the pair dressed as some kung-fu monk and Yoko repectively.
  139. >”Gory Garble isn’t a pegasus or a tiny mare!”
  140. >”She also has a point,” Punchie concedes, much to Ponks’ amusement.
  141. >Fluttershy visibly deflates at her friend’s words.
  142. >”I’m sorry I’m not any bigger,” she whines softly. “I just wanted to be as accurate as possible…”
  143. “Looks accurate to me.”
  144. >The pair look up in surprise, noticing you for the first time.
  145. >”But it’s nooooooooooooooooooooot,” the little pegasus sniffles, tears beading up in her eyes. “It’s wro –“
  146. >At your side, Twilight shakes her head, her twin-tails bobbing and jerking with the movement.
  147. >”No, Anon is right,” she tells the pair with a smile. “That’s pretty accurate for a genderswapped Gory Garble.”
  148. >”R-really?”
  149. “Absolutely!”
  150. >You have no fucking clue – good thing half your skill points are in Bluff.
  151. >”See? Trixie knows best!” Trixie congratulates herself, striding out to join the gathering… herd?... of ponies, with Fluttershy following just a step or two behind. The little yellow ponies smiles and speeds up as she realizes just how easy movement is now that the awkward sword is out of the way.
  152. >Applejack’s door opens with a slam – the earth pony emerging with an actual costume this time – an oversized canvas coat with a little blue lantern dangling from its oversized collar.
  153. >”Okay then *princess* how does this –“
  154. >She freezes mid-sentence, staring across the hall to Cheerilee’s open door. The teacher is wearing a short scale and chain vest – you would call it a bikini top, if only ponies had tits.
  155. >”Huh,” AJ grunts. “So *that’s* what you wear when you go LARPing with Big Mac.”
  156. >”Yeah, what of it?” Cheerilee sneers viciously, reaching back with one foreleg to adjust how her shortsword is hanging. “And don’t think I don’t recognize that coat.”
  157. >The farmer shrinks at the other mare’s uncharacteristic ire, pulling back into her coat like a turtle into its shell.
  158. >”Well, *of course* you’d recognize it,” she answers defensively. “Ah’m borrowin’ it from my brother.”
  159. >Cheerilee’s mouth opens – clamping shut almost immediately as a startled look crosses the mare’s face. She takes a deep breath before stepping out into the hallway.
  160. >”Sorry, Applejack,” the teacher apologizes. “I just… you know… get into character when I put this on…”
  161. >She smiles guiltily, as she walks over to the other mare. Huh, she’s got a matching scale and chain bikini-bottom on, though it’s partially obscured by her sword and saddlebags.
  162. >”Yeah, I know,” AJ responds, her tone as overly harsh as Cheerilee’s was at first, but the pink – pinkish – mare just shrugs it off. “The pair o’ ya’ll have a bit of a rep-u-tation.”
  163. >”Oh?” Apple Bloom asks as she trails in, speaking around the wand clutched in her mouth. Her frilly little dress bounces with her every step. “What kinda reputation? And why’re you wearin’ saddlebags, Miss Cheerilee? Don’t that ruin your costume?”
  164. >”No, Apple Bloom – they match my costume perfectly,” the mare answers, her face splitting in a savage smile. “I’m here for blood and plunder!”
  165. >”Ah don’t think nopony’ll be sellin’ blood,” the little filly mumbles in confusion, “right, Berry Pinch?”
  166. >The unicorn steps up beside her, nodding.
  167. >”Yeah, that’d be pretty weird,” Pinchie agrees, her the hood of her red cloak flapping with every movement.
  168. >”Sure would be, girls,” Cheerilee admits with a grin, before turning back to the open door to her room. “Come on, Lyra! We’re just waiting on you now!”
  169. >”And Scootaloo!” Pinchie corrects, even as the third filly trots into the hallway glumly wearing the five-pointed glasses Pinkie had given her.
  170. >”Yeah, yeah… I’m coming…” Lyra calls out, her body entering the hall only a fraction of a second behind her voice. The mare is wearing a blue cape over a black and white slash-and-puff doublet – possibly the fanciest costume you’ve seen so far. Still… you and Twilight share a look and a grin.
  171. >”Bard.”
  172. “Bard.”
  173. >And she’s wearing saddlebags, just like her roommate.
  174. >”Sweet Celestia, are you all con noobs? I’m not carrying all of your shit,” Lyra warns, looking over the collected ponies. “Wouldn’t be a bad idea for some of you to head back to your rooms and empty out your bags.”
  175. >She gives Twilight a pointed stare.
  176. >No need to explain – there’s absolutely zero place for your princess to anything larger than about twenty singles.
  177. >”Good thing I have him,” your marefriend grins, raising a forehoof and pawing at your cargo shorts.
  178. >The gesture might have been more effective if she’d picked someplace other than your REAR left pocket.
  179. “Hey, I’m not carrying everything either! If you want to fill up these pockets, *you* can wear ‘em!”
  180. >You don’t like the look of contemplation that crosses her face.
  181.  
  182. >The streets of Canterlot are packed around the convention hall – stalls and vendors unable to rent space in the con proper holding their own little festival outside, catering to those still waiting to enter. Most seem to be selling costumes and accessories for the ponies who forgot to pack certain things or who have last-minute changes of heart. Amongst the items you see plenty of fake pegasus wings and unicorn horns. Makes sense – not every popular character is an earth pony.
  183. >Long queues line the streets as ponies try to enter the clubs and bars that surround the convention hall – apparently some ponies have given up on getting through the registration lines in time for the opening ceremony, choosing waiting in line for alcohol and loud music over waiting in line for games and different loud music. Food carts cater to *these* ponies, as well as those lined up for the registration tables outside the convention hall’s main doors – apparently some of the ponies have been here for hours.
  184. >Luckily you don’t have to worry about that – there’s still half-a-million or so bodies between you and her, but you can clearly see Rarity standing off to one side near the tables. You’d recognize those gigantic butterfly wings anywhere. Now if only your group could get through the crowds to reach her so you could finally get in the hall and head to… to… what *is* the first event Twi is going to drag you to?
  185. >Ah, right, the first cosplay event and then the opening dance.
  186. >Cosplay you get – kind of. You’re here for the games, not the costumes. Actually, you’re here because you don’t really have a choice, but close enough.
  187. >But a dance? Seriously? It’s not unheard of – you’ve heard of them before, after all – you’re just not getting *why*. Maybe it’s because ponies are naturally more social than humans? But… humans do it to. Possibly because… wild guessing is pointless – you don’t have a fucking clue.
  188. >And it really doesn’t matter – your little anal-retentive princess plans to railroad real life again. She has a schedule. A very long, complex schedule complete with flowcharts for alternate scenarios and probability tables.
  189. >Guilliman would be proud of your Twilight – even though she is an adorable little heretic xenos princess.
  190. >Too bad you’re not Guilliman – you’re just a man who is annoyed that his marefriend has plotted out the entire con, down to the minute.
  191. >Gods, you love her for it. Somehow.
  192. >You reach over, patting her head gently and earning yourself a grumpy look. Right, right – this isn’t Ponyville, where everypony knows what she’s really like. This is Canterlot – and you’re supposed to let her pretend she has some dignity.
  193. >Princesses do NOT receive head pats in public. Ear scratches are a maybe. Fucking is RIGHT OUT.
  194. >It’s a little insulting that she actually felt the need to include that in the pamphlet she gave everypony.
  195. >You only tried that once.
  196. >And luckily nearly everypony threw the pamphlets away without even looking at them. Nearly. Hopefully.
  197. >The fillies do seem to be keeping their distance for some odd reason, though. Probably not related.
  198. >Fluttershy is happily humming to herself as you walk. Very possibly related. Damn pervert.
  199. >Your posse’s momentum stalls about half a block from the convention hall. So close, and yet… so far.
  200. >”Looks like an ideal time for a Dragon Slave!” Cheerilee hints playfully. “How about it, Trixie?”
  201. >”I think I’ll pass on the whole ‘killing hundreds’ thing,” Trixie answers with a roll of her eyes. “Let’s find a better way, shall we?
  202. “Magic might not be a bad idea. Any chance you can teleport us, Twi?”
  203. >She shakes her head reluctantly.
  204. >”No, that would probably be very unsafe,” your little princess answers with a shake of her twin-tails.
  205. >“How unsafe!?” Ponka asks loudly, wrapping a foreleg around Twilight’s withers. “Like… on a scale from ‘perfectly safe’ to ‘earthshattering kaboom’?”
  206. >”Very.”
  207. >”Oooooooooooooh. Yeah,” the earth pony nods in agreement. “That would be BAAAAAAAAAAAD.”
  208. >”Rematerializing inside another pony tends to be,” Trixie answers dully, distracted by her search for a path through the crowd.
  209. >You reach into your bag, feeling around for –
  210. >No, that would be a bad idea. And probably wouldn’t work.
  211. “Ponka? All this standing around is boring.”
  212. >”Okie dokie! Turn left!”
  213. >Under her guidance, your group finds a way through in less than thirty minutes, though you’re pretty sure you circle the whole city three or four times. You also have absolutely no idea how you end up standing on the second floor balcony, looking down at Rarity.
  214. >”Now all we have to do is get down there!” Ponka eagerly tells you, leaning over the balustrade and pointing at her friend. “Then we can get into the convention hall!”
  215. >”But… we’re already *in* the convention hall,” Apple Bloom points out, exchanging confused looks with the other fillies. “Can’t she just come up here?”
  216. >”Nope!” Twilight reaches into your bag and pulls out her schedule, shaking her head again after consulting it. “The plan says we have to go through the front doors. So now all we need to do is find a safe way down… maybe we could all fly down, or be carried down…”
  217. >She looks up and sighs.
  218. >”Nope, only one pegasus.”
  219. >”Hey!” Scootaloo yelps.
  220. >”Sorry, two.”
  221. “Twi – I think I have a solution.”
  222. >”Oh? Did you bring rope!?” she asks hopefully.
  223. “What? No!”
  224. >How would they even climb a rope anyway?
  225. “Do you know some sort of featherfall spell?”
  226. >”Of course.”
  227. “Problem. Solved.”
  228. >You grab the nearest pony and fling them over the railing.
  229. >Luckily, it’s Fluttershy. She can fly.
  230. >Unluckily, it’s Fluttershy. She can’t really fly.
  231. >Luckily, it’s Fluttershy. She won’t be missed.
  232.  
  233. >”You’re lucky that spell is quick to cast,” Twilight growls, letting the magic slip away once everypony is safe on the ground.
  234. “Why? I wasn’t the one falling.”
  235. >Trixie looks up from where she is comforting the trembling pegasus, staring daggers at you.
  236. >”You could have seriously hurt her!” Your princess rears up and shoves you. “Why the hell would you do a thing like that?”
  237. “Because it was the quickest way to fulfill your plan?”
  238. >”That’s no reason to –“
  239. “Because the opening ceremonies are about to begin.”
  240. >”Hurry up, everypony!”
  241.  
  242. >You would have thought the spectacle of ponies leaping and/or being thrown from a balcony would have caught everypony’s attention, but no. Panka-scale weirdness must be par for the course at this con. Still, the group stays by the doors sending you off alone to approach Rarity.
  243. >Rarity is still tapping her hoof impatiently, staring out into the sea of ponies trying to get in.
  244. “It’s nice seeing you with your costume actually on, Rarity.”
  245. >She spins with a dainty shriek, her body jiggling most satisfactorily in that tight latex outfit.
  246. >”HOW DID YOU GET –“
  247. “Pinkie Pie.”
  248. >”Well that answers that,” the unicorn huffs, stepping to one side to see past you to her gathered friends. “Ah. It appears everypony is here. Shall we go, Anon?”
  249. >You incline your head, gesturing towards the doors with an open palm.
  250. “Of course.”
  251. >She walks ahead of you, pulling out a stack of badges from a discrete pocket in her costume.
  252. >Even Fluttershy cheers as Rarity passes out the badges.
  253. >”Where’s Sweetie Belle?” Apple Bloom asks the unicorn clips the filly’s badge to the collar of her dress.
  254. >”She is inside,” Rarity answers with an open smile.
  255. >”You left her alone?” the filly gasps.
  256. >”What? No, she’s not alone!” the mare laughs, moving on to the Scootaloo and… hesitating. “Oh, of course!”
  257. >Hooves full of badges, she pulls a lanyard of out her pouch with her magic, quickly fastening the little pegasus’s badge to it and draping it around her neck.
  258. “She passed her audition, didn’t she?”
  259. >Either that, or Rarity sold her sister to some unwashed, yet rich, nerd.
  260. >”Of course she passed,” the unicorn grins. “My sister is a star, after all. I told her she had nothing to worry about!”
  261. >”Unlike us,” Twilight panics, looking through the glass doors. “It’s starting!”
  262. >You kind of zone out for a bit, following along with the herd without really paying attention.
  263. >Why the fuck do opening ceremonies even exist? This is time wasted that could be spent in the dealers’ room or whatever they have here.
  264. >You’re vaguely aware of a happy, jumping princess doing laps around you like she thinks she’s Ponka. Also of a Pinkie Pie acting like Pinkie Pie.
  265. >Even Rarity seems to tire of the speechifying, sidling up to you and tugging on your shirt to get your attention.
  266. >”Have you heard the rumors, yet?” she hisses quietly.
  267. “That Aredee is riddled with stds? Yeah.”
  268. >”Do *try* to maintain a little civility, would you?” the unicorn sighs, shaking her head in disbelief. “*That* is no rumor, nor is it what I am *trying* to talk to you about.”
  269. >Your friend grins wickedly – is she fucking with you? She’s gotta be fucking with you – there’s no way she would know.
  270. “So… what have you heard…?”
  271. >”Six Sider will be in attendance for the premier!” Rarity whispers eagerly with a wide smile on her face. “Six. Sider!”
  272. >Not what you were asking about, but interesting nonetheless. Mostly because your friend’s enthusiasm is infectious – you have no clue who she’s talking about.
  273. “Who?”
  274. >“Six! Sider!” Rarity rolls her eyes and facehoofs. “The creator of Burrows and Basilisks, the recluse that has avoided ever being seen, the pony that singlehoofedly crafted the entire setting for the game nearly fifty years ago!”
  275. “And he’s named Six Sider?”
  276. >”Or she,” your friend answers with a shrug. “And it’s not a name so much as a nom de plume. Fans needed *something* to call him or her.”
  277. >The unicorn squawks in outrage as Rainbow Dash shoves her face between the two of you, eyes narrowed suspiciously.
  278. >”How do you know that?” she demands, poking at Rarity’s chest with one hoof. “What have you heard?”
  279. >”Well, nothing really, just some doctors –“
  280. >”About Six Sider!” Aredee sighs in exasperation, waving her foreleg in the air. “We hear that rumor every year! And for all we know, he *is* here every year – nopony knows what he looks like! What makes this con any different?”
  281. >The unicorn smiles smugly, pausing to adjust her glasses.
  282. >”A lady has her sources,” she answers after a few seconds, revealing nothing.
  283. >“And who *is* this mysterious source?” Dash scowls, looking away. “Nothing to hear here, just the usual lies and bull –“
  284. >”Spike.”
  285. >The pegasus’s ears perk up.
  286. >”Did – did he say anything else…?”
  287. >Rarity turns from Rainbow Dash, look up at you.
  288. >”That Six Sider was very interested in meeting with us.” She draws out the words, savoring her power over her friend. “Particularly Anon.”
  289. “And how would Spike know any of this?”
  290. >”Because he’s helping run the premier,” she answers with a wink. “Did you not find it odd he did not meet you at the royal castle?”
  291. >Honestly, you hadn’t noticed his absence – it’s been kind of a busy day and he’s usually pretty overlookable. Still, the absence of something glomped on to your leg should have been a clue.
  292. >You simply shrug.
  293. “Well, good for him.”
  294. >Little guy always did want to do something important, to be more than just Twilight’s research assistant and personal servant. In the big scheme of things a new edition of a game might not be all that world-shattering, but here and now it’s one of – if not THE – most important thing happening.
  295. >”Indeed, he seems quite proud of himself,” Rarity volunteers, “as am I.”
  296. >”Yeah, yeah, congrats to Spike on stuff,” Rainbow Dash brashly grumbles, ruining the moment. “What else did he have to say?”
  297. >Rarity lets out an annoyed grunt, her blue eyes narrowing and the corners of her mouth drooping.
  298. >”He said –“
  299. >There’s sudden applause as the mass of ponies (and a few other creatures) packing the room stamp their hooves. Oh, those ponies on the stage are leaving – the opening ceremony must be over. Sweet! On to the next waste of time!
  300. >Or not, since everypony is standing still. Nervous excitement fills the room as a new pony – you assume it’s a new pony – takes to the stage. He’s wearing the pony-equivalent of a polo shirt, the words “Event Staff” printed in large letters on both sides.
  301. >”Hey everypony!” he shouts into the microphone. “I know you’re all waiting for the main event, right?”
  302. >”What!?” Dash hisses at Rarity as the crowd roars. “What did he say!?”
  303. >”He said shut up, you filthy nag!” the unicorn hisses, eyes locked on the stage.
  304. >”Really? How would he –“
  305. >Her voice is becoming louder, more distracting – several nearby ponies are eyeing her angrily. Damn, whatever this shit is, they must take it pretty seriously. Even Rarity – her normally calm demeanor is on the verge of slipping. Time to solve some problems. Nonviolently, no matter what some ponies think of you.
  306. >You kneel down and grab Dash around her midsection, wrapping your other hand around her muzzle. She’s too shocked to fight at first, quickly transitioning to embarrassment as other ponies watch her struggle helplessly. Her flailing kicks slow, then stop.
  307. “Going to play nice now?”
  308. >You remove your hand from her mouth so she can answer.
  309. >”Yeah! Of course!” she whines, trying to stare down some of the ponies watching her. “I just wanted a better view – put me on your shoulders!”
  310. >The things you do to keep the peace…
  311. >You stand, helping the little blue pony climb up onto your shoulders. Oh gods – despite being a pegasus she somehow weights more than Ponka. This isn’t the first time you’ve carried her, but it’s possibly the first time she hasn’t been piss drunk. Today, you find out this is way harder to do this when she’s sober, probably because she insists on being comfortable. It takes her a minute or two to find a good position, eventually settling for flopping on her belly over one of your shoulders, her legs dangling down fore and aft.
  312. “You good now?”
  313. >”Yeah!”
  314. >Rarity tugs at your shirt again, looking up and silently mouthing her thanks.
  315. >Things settled, you turn your attention back to the stage. That stallion – or is it colt? You’ve never been good at judging a pony’s age, but he looks fairly young – is still talking.
  316. >”So as you all know, victory is determined by applause! So if you like the act, STAMP THOSE HOOVES!”
  317. >He pauses as the crowd roars, letting the sound die down to a dull rumble before continuing.
  318. >”Don’t waste it on me!” he laughs. “I’m not competing! First up are Daisy Chain and Charlie Coal as…”
  319. >He pauses, as if listening to something. Oh, damn pony has an earpiece that someone’s using to feed info to him! Probably that white and blue mare off to one side near all the fancy looking sound equipment.
  320. >If they have this technology, why don’t they use it more often!?
  321. >You want to scream – their reliance on magic is crippling their society in so many ways.
  322. >Sad music leaks from the speakers set up around the room as the white and blue mare pushes a few buttons and says something into her headset.
  323. >”Okay! So,” the staffpony on stage shouts, trotting off to one side, “first up are Daisy Chain and Charlie Coal doing the deaths of Vlad and Isabella von Carstien!”
  324. >The fuck!?
  325. >Aredee is too enamored in the scene that unfolds onstage to notice your expression, but Rarity sees it when she glances over to see if you’re enjoying the show.
  326. >”The first cosplay competition is for short sketches,” she explains quietly, completely misreading your confusion. “Usually it’s an iconic scene for the characters or something like that.”
  327. ”They didn’t die together…”
  328. >”Well, perhaps our version ends differently,” she answers with a flip of her head, turning her attention back to the stage as the scene ends and the crowd stamps their approval.
  329. “But… those aren’t pony names…”
  330. >The little white mare shrugs, her prosthetic wings exaggerating the gesture.
  331. >”A good showing – but I’m afraid that probably won’t be enough to secure victory!” the staffpony yells into his microphone. “Next up, we have Black Stone and Smokestack as Wolf Wood and the Pony Storm!”
  332. >You shouldn’t be surprised – Ponka did say ponies had their own version of Trigun. It’s not bad, but the magic wands or whatever they’re using just ruin the skit for you.
  333. >Several more sketches pass by – mostly duos, but a few monologues and the occasional large group. Every show gets decent applause, but nothing that the staffpony feels is enough to secure victory. It certainly feels like the crowd is holding back for something, the pent-up excitement growing and growing.
  334. >The music switches to something more adventurous – a fairly standard hero theme that reminds you of Indiana Jones.
  335. >”And for our seventh entry, Sandstorm will be playing Daring Do in –“
  336. >FWOOMP!
  337. >A blue wing smacks into the side of your face – more startling than painful, but enough for you to stumble, dropping Rainbow Dash to the ground. The pegasus barely seems to notice, jumping up immediately to watch the stage intently. But while you’re coherent enough to notice that, you *did* just take a wingboner to the face – last time that happened you ended up on your back with blood everywhere. This time you’re still standing, but you *really* wouldn’t mind finding a place to sit down.
  338. >”Are you okay!?”
  339. >Oh, cool, your princess is here! From Rainbow Douche’s backwards glance – and the hoofprints on her back – Twilight must have trampled the pegasus to reach you.
  340. “Yeah, I’m… fine.”
  341. >Still feeling a little dizzy, you look around for somewhere to sit but the place is packed. Not quite standing-room-only, but close enough. You settle for kneeling down and putting an arm around Twilight’s withers – between your height and the platform’s elevation, you can still see the stage.
  342. >Your princess keeps glancing over to you in concern, enough that you dab at your face. No blood – you’re not really hurt. She just cares about you.
  343. >That’s nice.
  344. >So is holding her like this. Reminds you of the few times you actually took girls out on dates to music shows and things like that.
  345. >Another skit passes before you’ve really recovered, but no big loss – from the smattering of applause, it must have sucked. You could easily stand – your knees are starting to hurt – but your little princess just feels too good to let go of.
  346. >”Next up is the show you’ve all been waiting for!” the staffpony yells to a deafening clamor. “Now, now, hold your applause until after the performance, everypony!”
  347. >Black-clad ponies rush onstage, setting up lights and… and… what the hell are those poles?
  348. >To your left, Rarity gasps in excitement, her blue eyes shimmering and wide.
  349. >”These are my costumes!” she shouts most unladylike into your ear. Of course, she had to if she wanted you to hear over the crowd. “The ones I made for –“
  350. >”Everypony, welcome Sunny Smiles and Moonbeam to the stage, doing the transformation sequence from –“
  351. >The rest of his words are lost to the mob’s outcry and the pounding music.
  352. >Pinkie jumps onto your back, resting her head on yours as two of the biggest mares you’ve ever seen stride onstage, hips bouncing with every step. Damn, you’ve only seen maybe a handful with figures like that – most of them princesses.
  353. “Hey, don’t mess up the Mohawk!”
  354. >”I’ll be careful!” the earth pony giggles, thrust a hoof towards the stage. “Look!”
  355. >Just like Rarity said, they’re wearing her costumes. The slightly larger of the two – the white one – is wearing the red dress you had seen earlier this week. At the time you had thought it large, but on her it most certainly is not – her yellow mane covers as much – if not more – of her body than the dress.
  356. >The other one – the pale grey mare – is wearing the frilly black dress and long black and blue stockings on her hindlegs. Her mane reminds you of Twilight’s – same colors, slightly different styling.
  357. >They remind you of… shit…
  358. “No, no way. This… this *can’t* be native.”
  359. >”Nope!” Pinkie answers with a giggle, squeezing your shoulders tightly.
  360. “What the fuck!? In my world, laws were passed to stop them from making a second season!”
  361. >You’re not actually sure if that’s true – it just sounds too good for you ever even want to look up the truth.
  362. “How is this even here!?”
  363. >The mares rear up as they reach the… yeah, those are stripper poles. No other way to describe them. Each mare loops a foreleg around the pole above her head to keep themselves standing upright, the awkward pose thrusting their hips forward.
  364. >”Ready to do fucking do this!?” the white one – Sunny Smiles, if you remember correctly – shouts at her partner, her voice carrying to every corner of the room. You don’t see any mic on her – she must be using magic, but she doesn’t have a horn. And didn’t Rarity say they were pegasus ponies?
  365. >”They use a LOT of magical effects in their cosplay,” Twilight whispers to you – though whisper probably isn’t the right word considering she has to yell in your ear to be heard over the crowd’s screaming. “Probably have a couple unicorns just off-stage!”
  366. >Makes sense – you nod so your princess knows you heard her, the movement bouncing Pinkie’s chin against your skull.
  367. >”I SAID, ARE YOU FUCKING READY TO FUCKING DO THIS!?”
  368. >”FUCK YEAH, MOTHERFUCKER! LET’S ROCK!”
  369. >The stage – the whole room – goes black for a second, before being illuminated by two glowing halos above the mares’ heads. Still keeping one foreleg looped around the pole, they reach up with their other and –
  370. >And here come the familiar lyrics.
  371. >>”FLY AWAY NOW, FLY AWAY NOW, FLY AWAAAAAAY”
  372. >The pair grip their halos and cast them to the ground, Rarity’s costumes transforming into even more revealing outfits of white and pink and blue.
  373. >You look over to the fashionista – despite her costumes being on stage for less than a minute, she’s still grinning wildly.
  374. >Two pink hooves grab your head, jerking it back towards the performance in time to see white and grey wings flare out, freed from the confines of Rarity’s dresses. Additional lighting kicks in, strobing flashes playing across the crowd as the two pose for a second.
  375. >Is it your imagination, or are the stallions closest to the stage –?
  376. >No, you don’t want to think about that.
  377. >Not when Sunny Smiles spins herself around, locking her hindlegs around the pole and bending backwards to reach out to the crowd. Her partner does likewise, though her hindlegs remain fully extended – only one forehoof and the pole pressed between her legs keeps her upright.
  378. >They spin around one more time. Moonbeam’s dress is longer – you never quite can see if she’s wearing anything under it or not, but Sunny Smiles’ impossibly short skirt gives everypony a clear view of her pink panties.
  379. >As they slow, the pair bring their hindlegs back down to stand facing the crowd once again. Sunny Smiles runs one forehoof down the curves of her body as Moonbeam’s blue hair flares out, flashing pink under the lights.
  380. >”Oh, pitiful spirit lost in the darkness –“ the pair recite as Moonbeam runs her forehoof along her body, lurching forward and thrusting out her upper chest as her hoof passes over it to give the impression she actually has a bust.
  381. >A rather *effective* trick, your penis tells you.
  382. >” – oh, evil spirit born of those lost between heaven and earth –“
  383. >The grey mare runs her hoof across her stomach, pressing down the skirt to reach the valley between her hindlegs.
  384. >” – may the thunder from the garments of these holy, delicate maidens –“
  385. >Your eyes jerk back to Sunny Smiles as the mare daringly releases her grip on the pole, leaning forward and reaching back with both forehooves –
  386. >She’s going to fall, there’s no way a pony can stand like –
  387. >Oh, she’s thrust her wings as far back as possible, using them to keep her balance as she reaches under her skirt and slowly pulls down her panties.
  388. >” – strike down upon you with great vengeance and furious anger –“
  389. >Moonbeam takes a more cautious route, sitting down with one hindleg extended and –
  390. >Maybe that wasn’t the more cautious route after all – you can now see the mare *is* wearing blue panties.
  391. >She leans forward, grasping the top off one stocking and pulls it down, slowly exposing her long, delicate leg.
  392. >” – shattering your loathsome impurity and returning you from whence you came!”
  393. >The pair stand, spinning their garments in their forehooves around as they straighten up, again grabbing on to the stripper pole to keep themselves standing on their hindlegs.
  394. >Apparently, their choreographer did *not* plan for them to be elevated above the crowd – as Sunny Smiles’ hips thrust forward and the hem of her skirt bounces up, you catch a glimpse of something wet and winking. Just barely, only for a second, before gravity brings it back down and restores some tiny amount of dignity.
  395. >Not really – those in the front of the crowd still have a good view, judging from their reactions.
  396. >”Hey, what’s that smell…?” Ponka asks. You can feel her head jerking around as she tries to locate whatever it is she’s smelling.
  397. >Whatever it is, you smell it too, now. Like sweat and lavender and –
  398. >”REPENT –” Moonbeam shouts, as the pair thrust upward with forehooves now wreathed in blue flame. Moonbeam’s sword emerges from the fire first, flung into the air as she drops to all fours in front of her partner and catches the hilt with her mouth. Sunny Smiles follows a second later – though she remains standing – punching forward with a hoof that *somehow* holds a glowing blue gun.
  399. >” – MOTHERFUCKERS!” the white mare yells, a blue-white light flaring blindingly from the barrel of her weapon – the light as overwhelming now as the dark was earlier.
  400. >”Oh, found it!” you hear Pinkie shout in the blackness and overwhelming applause that follows the light.
  401. >You princess jerks in your grip, yelping in outrage.
  402. >”Hey, this tastes like –!”
  403. >The room’s overhead lighting comes back on – you look over to Twilight, trying to see the cause of her discomfort. She’s frozen in place, staring back over her shoulder – your eyes follow, tracing her line of sight, all the way down to where Ponka is buried nose-deep in her skirt.
  404. >Your princess doesn’t move, she doesn’t make a sound, even as everypony around her cheers and applauds the cosplayers still on stage.
  405. “Ponks?”
  406. >”Yes, ‘Nonny?”
  407. “Didn’t you read the pamphlet Twilight gave you?”
  408. >”Of course!”
  409. “Remember the restrictions on public affection?”
  410. >”MHM!” The pony nods, the movement finally eliciting a reaction from Twilight. Her eyes twitch, nothing more.
  411. “I think rule three also applies to oral.”
  412. >”Whaaaa?”
  413. >Ponka looks at you suspiciously, then down, her eyes crossing as she tries to look at what her nose is rubbing against.
  414. >”Ooooooooooooooooooh!” the earth pony giggles, finally pulling her face out of Twilight’s skirt. “No wonder it tasted familiar!”
  415. >She laughs again as she rubs the wet spot on her nose.
  416. >”Sorry, Twily!”
  417. >”It’s. Okay,” your princess stutters, forcing a toothy, crooked smile to her face.
  418. >Oh fuck, she snapped.
  419. >Off to your right, Cheerilee shakes her head in disgust, holding three thrashing fillies – all three of them demanding she let them go so they can see. You hope that’s because of the show and not your princess. To your left, Rarity is still squealing quietly in excitement, but beyond her Trixie is sneering at the stage – you can almost feel her anger when she looks over at you. No, not at you. At Twilight.
  420. >Fluttershy notices her friends anger, reaching over and – and – and Trixie shoves her away, knocking the little pegasus into another pony. Both collapse, giving the unicorn enough room to fight her way through the crowd.
  421. >Shit.
  422. >”Anon, I think I’d like to get out of here,” Twilight mumbles through clenched teeth.
  423. >”But there’s still contestants waiting to –“
  424. >”I don’t think I care, Pinkie Pie,” your princess growls. “Anon? Did you want to stay?”
  425. >She barely waits long enough for you to shake your head before a flash of purple moves the two of you into the hallway. It’s empty – everypony that could get in is crowded inside watching the cosplay, everypony else is… elsewhere, you guess.
  426. “Do you want to talk about –“
  427. >”No,” she answers abruptly, trotting over to one of the nearby benches and laying down. “I just needed out.”
  428. “Do you want me to hold you?”
  429. >She shakes her head.
  430. >”No, I just want to read,” she waves a hoof at your bag. “It was just too crowded in there – I needed out. I need some space.”
  431. “Okay…”
  432. >You reach into your bag and pull out your tablet for Twilight.
  433. “I’m sorry Pinkie ruined things. You seemed to be enjoying yourself.”
  434. >”I – I don’t know,” she mumbles, taking the iPad and holding it between the two of you. “I just need to escape for a bit, okay?”
  435. “Sure thing, my little princess.”
  436. >Twilight flinches away from your hand as you reach out to pat her – she must actually mean it this time.
  437. >With a sigh, you step back, letting the arm flop down.
  438. “I’ll be right over there if you need me.”
  439. >You point to a bench further down the hallway – far enough to give her privacy, but close enough if she needs you. Twilight nods, barely glancing up from the book.
  440. >Looks like you’ve been dismissed.
  441. >You walk over, passed the open doors to the room where the crowd still cheers and cosplayers still strut their stuff on-stage, and fling yourself into the bench. Moments later, a blue unicorn struggles free of the mob with a grunt. She turns back and gives the room one last sneer before noticing you.
  442. >”Got tired of that SHIT, too?” Trixie asks, coming over to sit beside you. She sits upright, like you, forelegs folded like she always does when she’s feeling angry or hurt. “I can’t believe how they’re all acting, particularly your marefriend and her cohorts.”
  443. “Honestly, I was a bit tired of it before it began. I thought this was supposed to be a gaming convention, not a fashion show.”
  444. >The mare at your side nods in silent agreement, her lips still curled.
  445. “What I don’t get is why you’re angry at Twilight and everypony else.”
  446. >Trixie looks away quickly, jumping slightly when she sees your princess down the hall.
  447. >”Well, I shouldn’t be surprised,” the unicorn murmurs. “Of *course* you’re going to take her side –“
  448. “Whoa there! I never said anything of the sort! I just wanted to know why you were angry.”
  449. >You lean closer – Trixie doesn’t notice, she’s too busy trying to set your princess on fire with her mind. Her whole body is trembling in rage.
  450. “Don’t worry, she’s too caught up in the book to hear us. So talk to me. What’s wrong?”
  451. >”They’re all applauding for those… those whorses that were prancing around on stage,” she whispers angrily – her voice is controlled and quiet. You have the feeling this is as loud as she can talk without screaming. “Those no-talent fucking whorses!”
  452. “Sounds a little strong – they seemed to have practiced their –“
  453. >”Who cares how much they practiced!” The venom in her voice takes you by surprise – she doesn’t even *know* Moonbeam and Sunny Smiles. “Those effects? It wasn’t even their own magic!”
  454. “So?”
  455. >”And their costumes – do you think *they* made them?”
  456. “No.”
  457. >You know they didn’t.
  458. >“So what did they really do then?” Trixie asks, her voice cracking. “Learn how to strut around on a stage and then pay somepony else to make it actually look good? And for that, they get rewarded!? For that, they get respect!?”
  459. >She turns back to face you, tears and snot dripping from her face. She isn’t shaking in rage – she’s crying.
  460. >”Do… do you know how they treated me my first day in Ponyville?” she demands, her voice growing louder. “Do you?”
  461. >You’ve heard the story, but never from her. Never from her side.
  462. “No.”
  463. >”The heckled me because I took pride in my work!” she sobs. “And when I called them on it, they ran me out of town and destroyed my home! And now they’re – they’re fucking *applauding* those – those –”
  464. >She can’t continue, burying her face in your chest… oh gods, pony snot all over your shirt! You’ll… you’ll clean it off later. Hesitantly, you reach around and pat her back gently.
  465. “It’s okay, they’re just –“
  466. >”I am SICK and TIRED of this world, Anon!” she bawls. “I try my best to entertain ponies, but apparently all I have to do is get on stage and flash my crotch for the whole world to stare at! Where’s the talent in that? Where’s the hard work?”
  467. >She clutches at your shirt with her forehooves, accidentally pulling you down – you make the most of it, wrapping both arms around her in a gentle hug.
  468. >”And it was all for their own self-gratification – that show was in no way appropriate. I’ve seen less selfish displays from *changelings* – at least they usually want to keep their victims alive.”
  469. “They weren’t hurting any –“
  470. >”Do you really think they cared about anything except showing off for the crowd?”
  471. “I – I don’t really know them, so –“
  472. >”And your friends didn’t know *me*, but she saw fit to punish me for showing my talents!”
  473. “I’m… sorry…?”
  474. >”Don’t be, you’ve never been like that.”
  475. >She sighs, the sound muffled by your shirt.
  476. >”I’m not jealous,” she says, sounding slightly calmer. “I wouldn’t want to perform for an audience like *that*. Did you hear them? Did you see the way they were acting? The way they intentionally held back their applause for the big show they knew was coming, regardless of the merits of those that came prior?”
  477. “I –“
  478. >”And then they – they – do things like *that*, in public.”
  479. >That did seem overboard, even by your standards.
  480. >”I *hate* ponies,” she says quietly. “Our entire culture is built around talent and friendship, but do we really value either one?”
  481. >She looks up at you, her eyes puffy and red.
  482. >”Talent is treated as nothing special, because *everypony* is talented, ‘in their own special way.’ So taking pride in it is punished. And friendship? I – I’m pretty sure nopony would care if I disappeared.”
  483. “Fluttershy would.”
  484. >”You don’t think I know what she’s doing?” Trixie laughs. “It’s nice to be needed, but that’s not friendship. It didn’t have to be me – she could have rescued *any* broken pony off the street and been just as happy.”
  485. >She sighs, resting the side of her head against your chest and staring at the wall.
  486. >”Do you know what she told me about friendship? That it was about *kindness*. She acted like friendship is a series of favors to be repaid, and do you know what sickens me most?”
  487. >Trixie pauses, but she’s not waiting for an answer. She’s trying to build up the courage to tell you.
  488. >”I almost fell for it. I was so desperate that I almost fell for it,” she sobs, the tears coming again. “I – I wouldn’t mind having a friend like her, but not under those terms. Not because I owe her or she owes me. Not because we *need* one another.”
  489. >She stops talking, trying to blink away the tears.
  490. “Do I owe you anything? Or you, me?”
  491. >Trixie shakes her head.
  492. “So we’re friends, right? The kind of friendship you want to have?”
  493. >”Y-yes.”
  494. “So if I ask if there’s anything I can do to help, you know it’s because I care, not because I feel some sort of obligation?
  495. >”I guess so.”
  496. >You wait for Trixie to tell you, but she says nothing. So you ask.
  497. “Is there anything I can do to help…?”
  498. >”If - *if* you find a way home… can you take me with you…?”
  499. “My home… might not be any better.”
  500. >”Maybe not, but it’s at least someplace new.” You can see the hint of a hopeful smile start to form on her face. “I wouldn’t mind –“
  501. >She stops and takes a deep breath.
  502. >”I would *like* to visit that Drafthouse you mentioned.”
  503. “And I’d like to… take… you…”
  504. >Your words slip away – your marefriend has stood up and is walking your way.
  505. >CRAP. SHE HEARD. SHE HEARD EVERYTHING.
  506. >“I think you’re being a little harsh,” Twilight says softly, putting a hoof on Trixie’s shoulder. “About Fluttershy, at least.”
  507. >Trixie doesn’t respond – she doesn’t do anything to acknowledge your marefriend’s presence.
  508. >”You know she has self-esteem issues,” Twilight sighs, using her magic to slip the iPad into the bag at your feet. “Is it really a surprise that she can’t imagine anypony freely wanting to be friends with her?”
  509. >”Maybe,” the unicorn answers bluntly, no emotion showing in her voice. “But you can’t deny the rest of it.”
  510. >”No,” Twilight sighs, taking her hoof from Trixie’s shoulder and slumping onto the long bench. “I can’t.”
  511. >The two mares sit in an uneasy silence that you’re afraid to break.
  512. >From time to time, you can hear the crowd yelling and stomping their hooves – with every outburst, Trixie flinches in your arms.
  513. >”I think they put more work into that performance than you give them credit for,” Twilight says eventually. “I’m not saying it was appropriate, but it was well done.”
  514. >”Of course you liked it,” Trixie sneers, though she still abjectly refuses to look at your princess. “I can *still* smell your arousal, you filthy –“
  515. >She stops suddenly, surprised by Twilight’s silence. For the first time, she looks over to see your marefriend’s head is lowered, her face hidden in shame.
  516. >”Do – do you think I’m proud of that?” Twilight asks quietly. “Because I’m not. Personally, it’s bad enough. But as a princess…? I – I –“
  517. >She swallows, looking sideways to the door. You can’t see her eyes, but you *can* see how she shifts her head.
  518. >”I can see why Princesses Celestia and Luna never attend. Even if they don’t do anything… disgraceful… that doesn’t mean… doesn’t mean…” Your marefriend sighs. You can almost hear the exact moment when her brain shifts gears. “It wasn’t like this last year. At least, I don’t *think* it was, but honestly I spent most of the con in the vendor room. Back when I first started attending, it was about everypony having fun. But now…? I don’t even know.”
  519. >Silence resumes, but Trixie continues to twitch. Not quite struggling to slip free of your arms, but enough to make you wonder.
  520. >”I’m not trying to steal your coltfriend,” the unicorn says eventually, now steadfastly ignoring *your* presence.
  521. >”I know.”
  522. >Well, good. Because it’s not like you could even be stolen. Kidnapped maybe, but never stolen. The law is very clear about the difference.
  523. >”He’s has friends other than me,” Twilight says quietly, but without any sadness. “And I have friends other than him. I bet *we* could even be friends.”
  524. >She looks up, meeting Trixie’s hard stare.
  525. >”No, I guess not,” your princess concedes with a wry smile. “Not after what’s been between us. But we can at least not be enemies. I mean… I don’t even know anything about you. I doubt *any* of use know your favorite movie or game or –”
  526. >”Nopony ever cared enough to find out.”
  527. >Twilight flinches, the words striking her like a hammer.
  528. >”I’ve – I’ve been a horrible princess, haven’t I?”
  529. >Trixie shrugs free of your embrace and you let your arms drop – their job is done for now.
  530. >”I don’t know,” the unicorn admits, jumping off of the bench. “At least you walk amongst your subjects. When was the last time the others shared even a word with the common pony or tried to solve anything themselves?”
  531. >She sighs, looking down the hall.
  532. >”I’m a mess, aren’t I?” Trixie asks. “My face, I mean.”
  533. >Twilight doesn’t answer immediately – and you’re too smart to answer at all. Instead, your marefriend slinks off the bench, walking down the hall.
  534. >”We could both stand to wash up a bit,” Twi says. “There’s a restroom right down here – we probably have a few minutes before everypony tries to fit into them at once.”
  535. >Trixie hesitates, but follows your princess.
  536. >Good.
  537. >You examine your shirt – it’s not as bad as you thought it would be, so you lean back and wait. Your other friends will probably be out soon – you can’t imagine Berry Punch taking things very well.
  538. >Frankly, you’re a little surprised you haven’t heard any screams. Maybe she’s sleeping again?
  539. >But they aren’t the first ponies to leave – further down the hall, a small door slams open, Moonbeam and Sunny Smiles walking out of what must be a service hallway. The mares are back to wearing Rarity’s dresses – it’s possible their other outfits never existed at all.
  540. >The white mare is grinning wildly as she trots down the hallway in your direction.
  541. >Her companion? Not so much.
  542. >”Hey, HEY!” Sunny Smile shouts when she sees you. “You there! Whatever you are!”
  543. “What?”
  544. >You lean forward, resting your elbows on your knees, as the cosplayer draws close to you.
  545. >”You seem like the kind of creature that might enjoy a little horse pussy,” she tells you with a lewd grin. “Am I right? Of course I’m right, I’m *always* right!”
  546. “What.”
  547. >She comes closer, shoving her face in yours.
  548. >”Horse. Pussy.”
  549. >Before you can answer, a grey hoof hooks itself around the mare’s neck and pulls her away.
  550. >”Sister, I know how much you enjoy…” Moonbeam pauses for a second, tugging Sunny Smiles away from you again “… enjoy getting into character, but there is a line and you have already crossed it once tonight.”
  551. >Sunny Smiles sighs, whipping her head around to look at her companion.
  552. >Only your amazing reflexes save you from being smacked in the face by her yellow mane. Would have saved you. If you had bothered to try to dodge it. Which you might have, if you had seen it coming.
  553. >”If we are not acting in character,” the larger mare responds with insincere joviality, “then I suppose that means I get to eat your cake like normal?”
  554. >You can’t tell if that’s supposed to be a threat or an inside joke. Or both. Not that it really matters – the grey one’s face hardens. She’s not backing down.
  555. >”Like I said, *sister*,” Moonbeam growls, “you have already crossed the line once. Would you make it thrice?”
  556. >”Fuck off!” Sunny throws off her partners – sisters? – leg and prances away several steps. “Last chance, stud! You want a roll in the hay?”
  557. “I think not.”
  558. >”Your loss, tootsie roll!”
  559. >She trots away, leaving Moonbeam behind – smaller mare is too busy facehoofing to follow.
  560. >”We are sorry about that…”
  561. “Really? Cuz I’m not so sure she is.”
  562. >” *I* am sorry about that,” the mare corrects herself with a frown. “If she does it again… just… just smack her.”
  563. >The last words come out as a resigned sigh.
  564. >”HEY! YOU OVER THERE! THE CUTE ONE WITH THE ORANGE MANE, WANNA BANG?”
  565. >”Fuck my life,” Moonbeam grumbles, shaking her head and walking away slowly. “We shall see you later, Anon.”
  566. “Why? And more importantly, how do you know my name?”
  567. >”Shining Armor said we would be playing Burrows and Basilisks with a human,” the mare answers, turning her head to give you a slight smile. “There are not be many of you around.”
  568. “Ah.”
  569. >”WHADYA MEAN, YOU HAVE A MAREFRIEND?”
  570. >”If you will pardon me, I must take care of this,” she dips her head in farewell before charging down the hallway.
  571. >Well, that was weird.
  572. >The pair looked even larger than they did on stage. Not quite as the size of Luna and Celestia, but still well above average.
  573. >You watch Moonbeam until she turns the corner – while still elegant, she seems a little chunky. But that might just be the padding Rarity put in to hide her wing.
  574. >”HELP, SOMEONE CALL THE GUARDS!”
  575. >Gods, you’re going to be gaming with that pair.
  576. >That’s gonna suck.
  577. >You consider pulling our your tablet to see if there’s still a charge – you wouldn’t mind actually reading some of the books on there yourself – but  Trixie and Twilight are already coming back - coming from the same general direction as Sunny Smiles’ continued rampage.
  578. >”Can you believe it?” Trixie complains, casting her eyes back down the hallway they had come from. “It’s like if you’re rich and famous enough, you can get away with anything!”
  579. >”Do you really think that?” Twilight asks with a frown. She’s taken off the cheerleader costume and unbound her mane, her bare body looking positively thin in contrast to Trixie’s massive shoulderpads and Moonbeam’s padded dress. “Get away with anything? Last time I checked, I can’t even get a taxi.”
  580. >”Well, you aren’t *really* –“
  581. >Twilight tilts her head, giving Trixie a sarcastic smile.
  582. >”Yes, yes, I know,” the unicorn grumbles. “You’re basically a household name. Saved Equestria countless times and all that.”
  583. >You think the pair are going to walk past you, lost in their bickering, but they stop when they reach you, Twilight looking at you expectantly.
  584. >”Ready to go?” Twi asks, smiling happily.
  585. “Go where?”
  586. >You stand, sliding the strap of your bag over your shoulder. There’s no need to wait for an answer, you’re just curious.
  587. >”We have about an hour until the B&B event, I thought we might hit up the vendor room.”
  588. “Need to pick up a new costume? Speaking of, where’s the cheerleader outfit?”
  589. >”In the trash where it belongs,” Twilight answers with a slight sneer.
  590. >Probably no great loss – your little princess looks much cuter without it.
  591. >Twilight gestures for you to follow with a jerk of her head, quickly moving through the halls as ponies begin to spill out of the room behind you.
  592. “Hey, Twi?”
  593. >She turns her head to face you, but continues walking – only a nudge from Trixie stops your princess from walking straight into one of the trashcan that dot the halls periodically.
  594. “If everypony is leaving, that must mean the cosplay competition is over. According to your plan, aren’t we supposed to go to the dance now?”
  595. >She pauses, an expression of concern flitting across her face.
  596. >Dammit, why did you bring that up? It’s not like you want to go to it!
  597. >”Oh, I had forgotten about that,” she admits, reaching out a hoof. “Could I take a look at the schedule?”
  598. >With a sigh, you dig into your bag and pull out the stack of papers she calls her schedule – though no schedule you’ve ever seen requires rolls on multiple d66 charts. You hold it out to her, your princess wrapping it in a bubble of purple energy and cracking it open.
  599. >”Well, according to this…”
  600. >She slams the bundle into the nearest trashcan.
  601. >”Darn,” Trixie grunts seriously. “We’ll just have to make it up as we go.”
  602. >”Yeah,” Twilight agrees with a deep – and very fake – frown. “Too bad Anon misplaced it.”
  603. “Don’t worry, we still have your backup copy in our room.”
  604. >”I just hope the castle doesn’t spontaneously burn down,” Twilight answers, spinning in place so you can see her disturbingly hopeful grin.
  605.  “Accidents happen.”
  606. >You shrug.
  607. >She shrugs.
  608. >Trixie facehoofs.
  609. >”I’m going to the demo room.” The unicorn heads off in a different direction. “See you in an hour.”
  610. “You don’t want to look at all the cool stuff for sale?”
  611. >”Not – not really,” she stutters out. Her steps falter for a second, but she doesn’t turn back to face you. “One hour, Anon – don’t be late. It would be a shame if the Great and Powerful Trixie defeated the module before you even got a chance to look at it!”
  612. >Twilight watches her leave for a second – your marefriend has that look on her face that tells you she doesn’t know if she should be happy or sad at this turn of events. With a sigh, her head swings back to look at you with a slight smile.
  613. >She shrugs.
  614. >You shrug.
  615. >She leaps at you LIKE A GODDAMN FACEHUGGER AND/OR PINKIE PIE and wraps her forelegs around your waist. It’s a miracle you remain standing – there was a lot of force behind that jump and she’s bigger than most ponies.
  616. >”Let’s go treasure hunting!”
  617. >Your princess’s eyes sparkle in the dim light of the hallway.
  618. “You’ve been really looking forward to this, haven’t you?”
  619. >Twilight’s head bobs energetically.
  620. “Makes me wonder why we didn’t go straight there.”
  621. >”I’ve been waiting a year to come back here,” she answers, squeezing you tighter.
  622. “So you figure another hour or two wouldn’t matter.”
  623. >”Oh, no – it matters,” she corrects you. “It makes it all the sweeter.”
  624. >She giggles as you ruffle her mane.
  625. “O-kie do-kie po-nie. Lead on!”
  626. >Twilight hesitates for a second, looking up at your shoulders and sighing.
  627. >”You can’t carry me, can you?”
  628. “Not in any way that’s remotely dignified. I’m afraid you’re quite a bit larger than Ponks.”
  629. >She nods in reluctant acceptance – she knew the answer before she asked – and releases her grip on you.
  630. >”Maybe tomorrow I can cast a polymorph spell to shrink myself,” your marefriend contemplates, putting a hoof to her chin. “That way I don’t have to let go of you.”
  631. “Don’t ponies hold hooves or something like that?”
  632. >”Uh, we *can*,” Twilight answers, sounding like she’s explaining things to an idiot, “but we kinda use these things to walk, you know? Plus, you’re way taller than I am – it would be *really* awkward for both of us.”
  633. >She waggles a forehoof in your direction until you nod.
  634. “Then just polymorph into a human again and we can hold hands. How does that work for you?”
  635. >At first, Twilight nods eagerly at your suggestion. But then is slows, her happy expression changing to one of horror.
  636. >Godsdammit, Pinkie *did* show her /d/ after all!
  637. “Look, whatever you saw –“
  638. >”But… I still don’t have any human clothes to wear!”
  639. >Thank the stars.
  640. “Darn, we’ll just have to do that next CanterCon.”
  641. >”I guess so.” She smiles happily. “So many new cosplay opportunities – ones I’d *actually* want to dress up as!”
  642. “Oh? Sounds like you’ve already been thinking that through.”
  643. >Twilight nods eagerly, biting her lip.
  644. “Going to tell me?”
  645. >”Octavia and Septimus?”
  646. >She jumps up again, setting her forehooves against your chest. If Twilight was a puppy, she’d be wagging her tail right now. Hell, she *is* wagging her tail right now.
  647. “Sounds doable.”
  648. >”Yay!”
  649.  
  650. >The vendor room is packed, but not with ponies browsing. No, most of the attendees are at the dance or still trying to get in.
  651. >It’s the sheer number of booths – they are so tightly jammed in that there’s hardly enough room for two ponies to squeeze past each other.
  652. “Is it always this full?”
  653. >”Only on the first day,” Twilight answers, skipping though the open doors to the closest booth. “Things tend to sell out *fast* - that’s why I usually come here first!”
  654. >The staffponies on either side of the doors barely glancing at your badges. Probably a good thing, since you’re currently wearing both yours and hers – without a costume for her to clip it onto, there wasn’t really any other choice.
  655. >”Oooooh!” She turns her head back to face you, eagerly waving you over. “You’ll never believe what they have!”
  656. >Twilight excitedly holds out her find, presenting it so you can read the title of the book.
  657. >Of course it’s a book.
  658. >”It’s the Compendium Compendium!” your little princess tells you, as if you couldn’t read the words yourself. “I’ve never even *seen* a copy!”
  659. >She spins around once on one leg, holding the book in the air. Almost like something Panks would do, but with less bouncing and streamers.
  660. >From the salespony’s panicked expression, it must be a valuable book. He reaches out hesitantly, like he almost wants to snatch it back from your princess’s possibly careless hooves.
  661. “Sounds rare.”
  662. >She nods.
  663. “Also sounds kinda pointless.”
  664. >Twi head transitions fluidly from nodding to shaking.
  665. >”I thought you would understand,” she sighs wistfully, flipping over the book to check the price. “A list of all the official supplements for Burrows and Basilisks and their contents, plus most of the unofficial ones. Need to find every single skill for fighters, no matter how obscure? This is practically the only way.”
  666. “No, I get that. Someponies need a little help –“
  667. >Twi thrusts out her pink tongue in your direction.
  668. “ – but won’t it be invalidated in forty-five minutes or so?”
  669. >She tilts her head to the left, waiting for you to explain.
  670. “You know, when sixth edition is released?”
  671. >”What? No, of course not!” she laughs, holding the book out to the salespony. “A reference book that can go out of date is kind of pointless!”
  672. “My point exactly.”
  673. >”I’ll take it!” she tells the salespony excitedly before digging into your bag for her coinpurse.
  674. >Godsdammit, you should have dressed as a Sherpa.
  675. >You watch as a disturbingly large number of bits pass hooves. That’s seriously dough – maybe even enough to start a new Warhammer army.
  676. >Or put a down payment on a new house.
  677. “I have a hard time believing any book could be *that* rare. I mean, couldn’t ponies just duplicate it with that one spell?”
  678. >Even as you complain, you lift the flap of your bag so Twi can slide in her new acquisition. She snorts, the sound turning into a chuckle as she shakes her head in dismay.
  679. >”It’s *magic*, you dumbass.”
  680. >Well, okay then. Magic. Makes perfect sense.
  681. >”Coincidentally, that’s also why it won’t be invalidated,” she continues, reaching up with a hoof and grabbing your hand, awkwardly dragging you along to the next booth in a bizarre three-legged canter. “It’s meant to work with *every* edition of Bn’B, not just one!”
  682. “Fair enough. Makes sense.”
  683. >The words do not come easy from your mouth – it’s hard to speak when your princess has you pulled down into this graceless, hunched stagger.
  684. “Didn’t you want to see what else he had for sale?”
  685. >“Yes!” Twilight shouts loudly. “But I buy one thing from each booth, then I move on. I want to try to visit every stall, not blow all my money at the first one!”
  686. “What if they have two things you can’t live without?”
  687. >”If I can’t live without them, they’ll be worth breaking a rule for, won’t they?” Twilight asks, smiling up at you.
  688. >She gasps as she sees your pained expression, releasing your hand.
  689. >”Ohmygosh,I’msosorry!”
  690. >Twi sits back, flopping on her rear and holding her forehooves over her mouth.
  691. >”I didn’t mean – I mean, I wasn’t thinking! I just wanted to –“
  692. >You lean down, grabbing her hoof.
  693. “I’m sure it was awkward for you, as well.”
  694. >”Well, yes,” she admits, letting you pull her back to her hooves, “but I thought it was worth it, until I saw –“
  695. “So did I.”
  696. >At least for a little bit longer – in about five more minutes your spine might try to launch a revolution, but you’ll manage until then.
  697. >It was worth it to see her so happy.
  698. “It’s been too long.”
  699. >”Since…?” she asks, looking over this table’s selection. Her hoof darts out, snatching a book up excitedly. “Oh, this.”
  700. “Every single time, huh?”
  701. >”Yeah,” Twilight sighs, dropping the book back to the table.
  702. >There’s just something about some covers that grabs her attention – over and over, she reaches for them before even reading the title, before recognizing that it’s something she’s already rejected countless times before.
  703. >Yes, bookhorse *can* dislike some books.
  704. >You hadn’t thought it was possible, but it is.
  705. >”Well?” she asks, hand and hoof mutually slipping apart as you both reach for different items on opposite ends of the table. “It’s been too long since what?”
  706. “Since we’ve had a chance to just derp around like this. At least a month, maybe two.”
  707. >”Seriously?” she laughs nervously, holding up a Bn’B second edition core book for your approval. “We hang out all the time! We *always* hung out all the time – practically every day!”
  708. >You shake your head, giving Twi a slight frown.
  709. “No.”
  710. >”Um, *yeah*, we have.”
  711. “I meant no to the book. You already have it.”
  712. >”But my copy has wear on the spine,” she argues. “This one is nearly perfect!”
  713. “And if you really wanted it, you wouldn’t be asking my opinion.”
  714. >She looks back at the book and – with a slight shrug – sets it down.
  715. “But anyway, usually when we were hanging out there were other ponies present –”
  716. >”Gee, thanks buddy, what am I then?” the stallion behind the table growls, “Chopped liver?”
  717. “Yes, if you interrupt me again.”
  718. >”Damn polymorphers, always gettin’ too in-character,” he grumbles, turning away to assist another customer.
  719. “That’s your two. Wanna shoot for a third strike?”
  720. >You hold up two fingers for him to see.
  721. >”Come on, Anon, let’s go see what’s over *there*!” Twilight calls you away from the stallion, tugging on your shirt and pointing across the aisle.
  722. “What about your one-thing rule?”
  723. >”Ehhhh…” she shrugs again. “It’s more like ‘at most, one thing’. Besides, this is all overpriced crap.”
  724. >”WHAT!? How dare you –“
  725. >You hold up two fingers again, shoving them in the vendor’s face.
  726. “The lady’s talking, asshole.”
  727. >”Thank you, Anon,” she dips her head in appreciation before continuing. “I don’t know why some ponies think they can just bring in their old junk, mark it above retail, and take up space that *real* vendors could be using.”
  728. >”Hey! This will all sell before the con ends!”
  729. >”And I’m sure it will,” Twi responds. “But not to us.”
  730. >The other pony browsing the stall nods in agreement and trots away, leaving the salespony sputtering in anger.
  731. >”And not to her either, it looks like,” Twilight laughs, shoving her grinning face in the stallions face. “Good luck!”
  732. >She trots away, her tail bouncing with each step.
  733. >”You’re right – it *has* been a while since we’ve just hung out,” your princess giggles. “So, is there anything you’re looking for?”
  734. “Nah. Between the two of us, we have – hey, what’s that look for?”
  735. >Twilight is grinning over her shoulder at you – not like she’s happy, not quite. More like you’re prey that she has finally cornered.
  736. >It would be scary, if it wasn’t so bizarrely adorable.
  737. >”Oh, nothing,” she says innocently, “just… I guess you’re right. We don’t need two copies of everything.”
  738. “Yeah, that’s basically what I said.”
  739. >”Yep!” She jerks her head once in a quick nod. “Ooooh… let’s go look over there!”
  740. >She points across the room to a booth in the far corner with a nice selection of unique costumes on display.
  741. “Why that one? I thought you’d want to go in some kind of order –“
  742. >”Because I think that’s Coco’s booth!”
  743.  “Who?”
  744. >”*Coco! Coco… ummm.” Twilight’s eyes widen – between that and her hesitation, you guess she’s forgotten the rest of the pony’s name. “You know, the pony Rarity was going to ask for help!”
  745. >Your princess grins innocently – she’s not hoping you didn’t notice, just that you’ll pretend it didn’t happen. After all, it’s not the first time she’s made a blunder like this. Pony names are such ephemeral lies floating on the wind, lacking the solidness of a book’s title.
  746. >At least, that’s the way she put it the first time you called her on it.
  747. >”She *is* the one Rarity mentioned to you, right…?” Twilight asks, giving you a slight nudge with her hoof. “I thought she was, but I maybe –“
  748. “No, it was her. You said you were looking forward to seeing her again, right?”
  749. >”She was nice,” your marefriend answers. “Very… nice.”
  750. “You don’t really remember anything about her, do you?”
  751. >”She was nice!”
  752. >Twilight gives you a shit-eating grin.
  753. “Anything else?”
  754. >”She… didn’t talk much, maybe?” she guesses with a shrug. “I dunno.”
  755. “Wow, no wonder you’re worried about being a bad princess…”
  756. >”Hey!” she jabs at your thigh angrily.
  757. >Ow.
  758. >”Hey!” she repeats, punctuating the word with another poke. “She’s from Manehattan. Not my jurisdiction, not my problem!”
  759. “Friendship has jurisdictions?”
  760. >”It does if it wins me this conversation!” Twilight giggles, rubbing her shoulder against your battered leg. “Besides, have you *been* there?”
  761. “Of course not.”
  762. >She knows you haven’t – your entire stay in Equestria has been limited to Ponyville and a month in Canterlot’s dungeons. But you’ve heard stories, stories of ponies who went out of their way to help Rarity in one way or another.
  763. >”Well, *I* have,” your princess smirks, “and there is no friendship in Manehattan. Just trust me on this.”
  764. >Sure, why not?
  765. “With all my heart and soul, dearest Twilight.”
  766. >You wave your hand in the direction of what could possibly be Coco Something’s booth.
  767. “Shall we go say hi to the friendless nicepony?”
  768. >”Piling it on a little thick, aren’t you?”
  769. “Yes, we are.”
  770. >She looks up questioningly, taking note of your choice of words.
  771. >”Eh.”
  772. >Twilight shrugs, her wings taking part in the gesture to show her extreme apathy.
  773. >”Let’s go, Anon,” she says with fake enthusiasm. “Time to pretend I have social skills!”
  774. >She lurches forward uncomfortably, her suddenly movement catching you flatfooted – you’re forced to stumble after her as she runs up to the booth.
  775. >”Coco? Is that you?” she asks, practically leaping the final distance – there’s definitely some hangtime before her forehooves come down on the edge of the table, leaving your princess looking perky and eager. Even her ears stand straight up – a start contrast to the mare on the other side.
  776. >The cream colored pony’s ears are flattened back in terror.
  777. >”Y-yes?”
  778. “Coming on a leeeeeettle strong there, Twily.”
  779. >”Oh, am I?” She turns from the well-dressed mare – presumably Coco – for just a second. That’s all it takes for her to read your face, for her to see you actually mean it. “Dang. Sorry… I’m just so… excited to see you?”
  780. >”I don’t know,” the mare responds, raising an eyebrow in confusion. “Are you?”
  781. >”Of course I am!” Twilight giggles nervously. “Rarity told us you’d be here. We never would have thought to look for you at CanterCon of all places“
  782. >Comprehension dawns on her face.
  783. >”Oh, you’re Miss Rarity’s friends!” Coco smiles. “She told me about you! I admit, this really isn’t my thing – I’m not into this kind of stuff at all, but it’s a hoof in the door.”
  784. >”I thought you were making costumes for…”
  785. >Oops, she’s lost the details again.
  786. >”Yes, for that play,” Coco nods with a self-satisfied smile. “But there’s a rather small following for that sort of stuff, you know. The *right* following, but this work does get my name out there. It never hurts to have name-recognition with the average pony on the street, does it?”
  787. >”I guess not,” Twilight agrees eagerly. “I mean, last time I was in Manehattan, I couldn’t even get a taxi!”
  788. >Coco smiles sadly at your marefriend, tutting softly.
  789. >”Well, don’t be surprised. I’m sure you know our taxis have a… reputation. I heard they wouldn’t even stop for a princess!”
  790. >You share a glance with your marefriend.
  791. >”Looks like Trixie was right,” Twilight sighs, pushing herself off the table to land on the floor with all fours.
  792. >”You know the Great and Powerful Trixie?” Coco asks, suddenly excited. “It must be thrilling to be friends with so many famous ponies!”
  793. >Twilight looks to you again, sighing slightly.
  794. >”You know, I always used to think it odd that Princess Celestia always wore her crown, no matter the occasion, but now…?” She dips her head dejectedly. “Now I think I know why.”
  795. >”I must say, your prosthetics are beautifully done!” Coco blurts out, misreading Twilight’s body language. “I’m not sure who you are supposed to be, but –“
  796. >Twilight looks up suddenly, eyes twitching.
  797. >”I’m *not* in costume.”
  798. >”Oh. OH,” Coco gasps, putting a hoof to her mouth in shock. “So a polymorph spell like your companion? Personally, I think those are cheating. Not fair for earth and pegasus ponies, but still…”
  799. >You don’t like the way the mare is examining you, like she’s not actually looking at you, but at something else.
  800. >”… *your* costume is magnificent,” she admits to your surprise.
  801. “It’s just a shirt and some shorts. Nothing special.”
  802. >”It absolutely is!” she asserts, in a weirdly passive way. “Most ponies try to make do with their ordinary clothing, as if *that* would ever fit a new body properly. But not you – it looks like those clothes were expertly tailored to fit this form! Tell me, was it Miss Rarity that came up with that?”
  803. “Um… kind of…? In that she offered to make me some clothes?”
  804. >”She made more than one outfit for you?” Coco sighs happily. “That is *just* like her. I’m only surprised she didn’t do anything for your friend as well. It’s not very… awe inspiring.”
  805. >She smiles apologetically to Twilight.
  806. >”I’m sorry, but no princess would ever be caught looking like that. It just breaks the realism – I’m sure you understand, right?”
  807. >You think… you think she just broke Twilight. Your marefriend’s jaw is hanging open, her wings drooping down to the floor.
  808. >A gentle nudge from your knee has absolutely no effect.
  809. “Rarity never did introduce you to her friends, did she?”
  810. >”No, I’m afraid not,” Coco admits. “I only saw them in passing a few times. Were you there? Were you one of them? I’m sorry, but… well…”
  811. >She waves a hoof at you.
  812. >”… you have to admit, there’s no way I would recognize you now, right?” she asks, smiling sheepishly.
  813. “Um… no.”
  814. >You point at your little broken princess – she’s still standing there, mouth agape.
  815. >”Oh, *she* was?” Coco gasps. “I’m so sorry, it must have been the wings that threw me.”
  816. “No, she had wings then.”
  817. >”So… the horn…? But…” the mare shakes her head, stoically defying the evidence presented to her. “No, there is no way one of the princesses would ever come to one of – of – of *these*.”
  818. >She waves a hoof around her.
  819. >”To a mere gaming convention?” Coco pauses to laugh, daintily hiding it behind a raised hoof. “Rarity is friends with Princess Twilight Sparkle, but she’s also warned me that many of her friends are incorrigible pranksters. I’m sorry, but I *know* you’re pulling my leg! A princess? At CanterCon?”
  820. >You shrug, giving the mare a grin.
  821. “Darn, I guess you caught us. Come on, *Rainbow Dash*, we should probably stop wasting her time.”
  822. >Twilight is still completely non-responsive, so you lean down and pick her up.
  823. >Crap, you were right – there is no way to do this in any dignified fashion, you end up cradling her in both arms as you carry her out of the room. The staffponies at the door eye you curiously, but say nothing.
  824. >Kinda useless, aren’t they?
  825. >You would almost be disappointed, except it seems to work out in your favor every time.
  826. >Questions right now would be more than a little awkward.
  827. >You carry your marefriend to a secluded spot – a little alcove along one of the halls.
  828. “Hey, Twily?”
  829. >No response.
  830. >You set her down on a padded bench, something made rather difficult by her wings limply flopping around, but in the end you manage.
  831. >You take a deep breath and hold it – time for emergency measures. You have to press her reset button, there’s no other choice.
  832. >With the palm of your hand, you gently boop her nose.
  833. >”What the hell!?” Twilight shrieks, clutching her head with both forehooves. “She’s met me! We’ve never talked, but she’s met me!”
  834. “That doesn’t mean –“
  835. >”Coco was at the Equestria Games, where I most of my time sitting on a throne in full royal regalia!” your princess shouts. “There’s no way she didn’t see me!”
  836. >Twilight grimaces, looking on the verge of tearing out her mane in frustration.
  837. “Hey… hey!”
  838. >You cup her chin in one hand and pull her head up so she’s looking at you.
  839. “Maybe she has Alzheimer’s?”
  840. >”No, Coco remembers who Trixie and Rarity are,” Twilight sighs, pulling herself free from your hand and slumping against your chest, “and she knows my name – she just didn’t know *me*.”
  841. “Memories are funny things – and to be honest, you couldn’t really remember anything about her either.”
  842. >”No, that’s not it,” your princess growls.
  843. >Twilight isn’t just speaking in a rough tone – it’s a legitimate growl, something you would expect to hear from a dog that’s about to attack. Not a princess, not *your* princess.
  844. “You aren’t going to do anything to her, are you?”
  845. >”What? Why?” She blinks at you, genuinely surprised. “She’s an earth pony. Unless she was just being a jerk, she’s not behind this. *Nopony* has recognized me, except for my friends, and this is Canterlot!”
  846. “That is something to keep in mind – this *is* Canterlot.”
  847. >She looks at you curiously, waiting for you to make your point.
  848. “Maybe they’ve all become accustomed to seeing royalty and just don’t care?”
  849. >Twilight doesn’t answer, thinking it over. At least she’s calmed down, like she always does when there’s a puzzle to solve.
  850. >”Possibly, but –“
  851. >She stops talking as a green mare passes the alcove, jumping off the bench and running to the other pony.
  852. >”Hey!” Twilight shouts, catching the mare’s attention. “Do you know who I am?”
  853. >After her initial reaction of jumping back a foot or two, the mare pauses, studying your princess carefully.
  854. >”Some alicorn, I guess?” she finally answers. “I dunno, you *really* need to accessorize if you want ponies to know who you’re cosplaying as.”
  855. >Twilight shakes her head quickly.
  856. >”No, I’m not asking who I’m dressed as – I’m asking if you know who *I* am.”
  857. >That certainly is one way to test out your theory.
  858. >”Not a clue,” the mare shrugs, suddenly wary. “Have we met before?”
  859. >”Yes, but that answers my question,” Twilight responds, spinning away from the other pony. “You can go now.”
  860. >From Twilight’s smile as she climbs back onto the bench, your princess didn’t hear the words the mare mumbled as she walked away.
  861. >For the best, really.
  862. “Was that a valid test? How do you know she’s from Canterlot?”
  863. >Twilight’s smile widens.
  864. >”Because she works at the royal court! I don’t know exactly what she does – or her name – but there’s absolutely no reason why she wouldn’t know who I am!”
  865. >Her face falls abruptly.
  866. >”And that means magic,” Twilight says glumly. “All I have to do is figure out what it is and I can reverse it, but do I want to?”
  867. “What do you mean?”
  868. >”I mean…” your marefriend bats her eyelashes at you “… whatever happens this weekend, I don’t have to worry about my reputation.”
  869. >She reaches for you – but stops at the sound of approaching hoofsteps.
  870. >Apparently she’s not so confident in her theory as to test it right now.
  871. >A good thing, since Moonbeam glances to her left by chance as she passes the alcove. The mare pauses, studying the two of you.
  872. >She raises an eyebrow curiously.
  873. “Lost your sister?”
  874. >Moonbeam nods.
  875. >”I’m not sure if we should be thankful for that or not,” the mare sighs. “I don’t have to deal with her now, but I *will* have to deal with the problems she creates later. I only hope she isn’t late.”
  876. >”Late for what?” Twilight asks, sitting up straight.
  877. >”For the premiere, Twilight Sparkle.”
  878. >Whelp, there goes that theory.
  879. >”You still have *some* time,” the cosplayer smirks, “but not much. And please, remember that you *are* in public.”
  880. >Twilight’s face flares crimson as the other mare practically skips away laughing.
  881. >”Come on,” she finally says, grabbing your arm with her foreleg. “Let’s go.”
  882. >She nearly drags you off the bench as she hops down.
  883. “Abandoning the puzzle?”
  884. >”What puzzle?” Twilight asks grimly, giving your arm another tug. “Coco Whatever is just a bitch.”
  885. “And that green mare?”
  886. >”Changeling,” she huffs, jerking on your arm. “Time to go!”
  887. “Seriously?”
  888. >”If it ends this conversation, yes!”
  889. >Twilight releases your arm as you stand, eagerly dancing back and forth in excitement. She barely even waits for you to pick up your bag before following after Moonbeam, pausing after a dozen or so steps to look back at you.
  890. >”Well?” she asks. “Coming?”
  891. “Yeah, I’m coming. Let’s go fuck up someone’s game.”
  892. >Twilight must have memorized the room number, because Moonbeam is already out of sight but your princess’s pace doesn’t falter.
  893. >What are you thinking – of course she memorized the room number. And probably the quickest route there. The hallways are becoming more and more crowded with ponies – and more than a few other creatures – hanging out or heading to various seminars and events. Twilight must have taken that into account, since she circumvents the most clogged intersections.
  894. >”Ah, there!” she eventually says
  895. >Your princess is pointing at a heavy iron door set in a rough stone wall – something completely at odds with the actual architecture of the convention hall. Even more so with the two guards standing on either side of the hallway. They are not armed, but you can tell that’s not costume armor they are wearing.
  896. >They eye you but do not otherwise react as you pass them.
  897. “Are you ready to –“
  898. >The door bursts into flame with your next step – you can feel the heat on your skin as the fireball erupts outwards.
  899. >Something about Twilight’s expression stops you from immediately running or diving for cover.
  900. >”Look carefully,” she sneers, “particularly at the walls.”
  901. >You do – it takes only seconds for the stone to shimmer and fade away, letting you see the plain wooden wall underneath. The fire takes slightly longer with the feeling of heat disappearing first.
  902. >Your marefriend smiles as she sees you nod in understanding.
  903. >”Just an illusion,” she says, trotting forward again. “Eyecatching, but they could have at least gone with a real door and wall. Great work on the fire, though.”
  904. “Yeah, I could actually feel it.”
  905. >”Stuff like that will happen a lot this weekend. When in doubt, just look at it for a couple seconds – if it’s an illusion, you’ll see through it pretty quickly.”
  906. >She turns her head back to nods in appreciation to the guards – both unicorns, you now notice.
  907. >”Really, that explosion was *very* well done.”
  908. >”Thanks!” The unicorn on the left smiles, then bows low. “Sorry about the walls, we *told* them… but, well… I’m sure you know someponies can be.”
  909. >The other waves you on.
  910. >”Go ahead, you’ve seen the entire gimmicky show,” he says. “I think we’re only waiting on two or three more.
  911. >Twilight smiles, dipping her head once more before turning back to face the – now plain – door.
  912. >”Am I ready to what?” she asks, trotting forward and magically pulling the door open.
  913. “To break your first DM.”
  914. >”Oooooh!”
  915. >Her eyes glitter like little stars.
  916. >”Yes!”
  917. >She ushers you into the room – decent sized, seven tables, quite a few ponies standing around – oh, and a few gryphons. No other humans, though. Because there’s only one of you.
  918. >A blur of white and blue slams you aside.
  919. >”SHINY!”
  920. >”TWILY!”
  921. >Yep, that’s her brother that just hip checked you. Or shoulder checked, depending on whose anatomy you go with.
  922. >”Hey, Anon!”
  923. “Heya, Spike.”
  924. >The little dragon is standing at your feet, puffing out his chest – his pride very much at odds with the green costume with an oversized zipper he is wearing.
  925. >He coughs, looking at you expectantly.
  926. “Oh, right. Congratulations on being part of this.”
  927. >”Thanks, buddy!” He gives you a toothy smile. “Your table is right over here, so if you’d follow me…”
  928. >You eagerly abandon your marefriend, following after the little dragon – the more time away from “Shiny,” the better. From everything you’ve heard about the stallion, from him being Cadance’s “white knight” to the way he looked after Twilight when she was a filly, leads you to expect Very Bad Things if he finds out you’ve put your dick in his little sister.
  929. >”Anything interesting happen in Ponyville while I’ve been away?” Spike asks, wiggling his eyebrows expectantly.
  930. “I fucked your mom.”
  931. >No, you don’t actually say that, but it takes all your willpower to resist. It’s close, but eventually righteousness prevails.
  932. “Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom got their cutie marks.”
  933. >”REALLY!?”
  934. “Yeah, I’m honestly a little surprised you haven’t already talked to Rarity or Sweetie Belle – they’ve been in town for almost a week.
  935. >”Dangit!” the little dragon shouts, “I’ve been locked up *all week* with the Prin – WITH SIX SIDER!”
  936. >He pauses, looking around to see if anypony noticed his gaff.
  937. >You did, of course, but he’s not worried about you.
  938. >You’re his bro.
  939. >You’ll tease him about it *later*.
  940. >Luckily for the little guy, everypony else is involved in their own conversations, mostly speculation about what’s happening. Oh, those fools, if only they knew they had a source right here.
  941. >Rarity’s source.
  942. >”Yeah, up until, like… two minutes ago, I’ve been locked up with SIX SIDER,” he repeats loudly, still not drawing anypony’s attention. “Shining Armor has come by a few times, but he’s been more of a listener than a talker, if you know what I mean.”
  943. >Ah, Rarity’s knowledge was second-hand. Still, nice of her to give credit to the original source.
  944. “So, you’ve been working with Six Sider to come up with this?”
  945. >”MHM!”
  946. “Any hints you can give me?”
  947. >”Well, I really shouldn’t,” he hums, tapping his teeth with one claw as he thinks it over, “but for you? Sure, why not! When you –“
  948. >”HEY, SHOULDN’T YOU BE HUMPING HIS LEG?”
  949. >Sunny Smiles appears out of nowhere, looming over Spike and giving the little guy a filthy leer.
  950. >Oh godsfuckingdammit, it’s the whorse. At least you now know what Spike is dressed as in his green zipper suit thing.
  951. >”Seriously, hump his leg, you shitstain!” Sunny Smiles yells, raising a hoof menacingly. “Or fuck off so I can talk with my friend!”
  952. >”Sorry, Anon! I have to go set some things up!” Spike apologizes, slipping between ponies’ legs to escape.
  953. >You let him – from his costume and the look on his face, Shining Armor hasn’t been the only pony to visit him lately. It’s totally understandable why he ran off.
  954. >You’re just pissed he didn’t take you with him.
  955. >With a sigh, you cross your arms and try to stare down the mare.
  956. “We’re friends?”
  957. >”Of course we’re friends!” the mare laughs obnoxiously as your feel a tug on your shirt.
  958. >”Where did Spike go?” Twilight asks quietly, trying not to intrude. “I thought he was with you.”
  959. >Sunny Smiles grins widely as she sees your princess at your side.
  960. >”Yeah, of course we’re friends!” she repeats herself, before licking her lips. “You don’t think I offer to let just anypony *rut* me, do –“
  961. >A purple hoof smashes into the mare’s face with enough force to flip Sun Smiles onto her back.
  962. >The entire room explodes in roaring silence as the cosplayer slams down, flipping over a table with blood streaming from her nose.
  963. >Moonbeam shoulders her way past the other players to stand over her sister, looking down with something akin to – but not quite – concern.
  964. >”Anon,” the grey mare speaks in a hushed tone. “I know I told you to smack her, but you may have overdone things.”
  965. >”Oh, Celestia!” Shining Armor swears, pushing his way through to stand by his sister. “Twilight, what have you done!?”
  966. >He quickly trots to the downed pegasus – his face showing *actual* concern – but Sunny Smiles waves him away.
  967. >”Nah, leave her alone,” the cosplayer moans. “I *like* her!”
  968. >With Shining Armor’s help, she rights herself and slowly stands, though she does have to lean on the stallion for support. Even as he holds her up, Shining’s eyes flicker between the Sunny Smiles and Twilight. He’s trying to decide if he needs to go into Big Brother Mode or… or something else. White Knight Mode?
  969. >Because who else would stand up for a skank like that?
  970. >It doesn’t help that your little princess’s hoof is still extended, dots of blood speckling her leg. From the way she’s looking at Sunny Smiles, it’s a good thing your marefriend can’t set ponies on fire with her brain.
  971. >She can’t, right?
  972. >Obviously not, or the white pegasus would be screaming right now.
  973. >”Seriously, Shiny, I like her. She’s got spunk.” Sunny Smiles gives him a reassuring grin before nodding towards you. “Probably getting it on a nightly basis, if you know what I mean.”
  974. >”I would really rather not,” Shining Armor answers, his face hardening.
  975. >Shit.
  976. >”Aww, is big brother jealous?” Sunny Smiles cackles. “Of who, I wonder?”
  977. >Shining is beginning to look like he would rather be anywhere else right now, but before he can say a word, a grey hoof batters the back of the pegasus’ skull.
  978. >”Stop being such a skank and sit down,” Moonbeam commands. “We need to get you washed up – I don’t want you bleeding all over our books.”
  979. >And with sister-on-sister violence, the tension in the room disappears, though the other players do keep their distance as event staff rush to straighten things up.
  980. >You run a hand along your princess’s tense neck, gently comforting her.
  981. “Let’s get you to one of the –“
  982. >”Oh, no! No, no, no, no, no!” Rarity bursts out of the crowd, grabbing Twilight’s bloody hoof. “Dear, you are a *mess*, let me take care of you! Anon, please go find my Spike – I saw him a moment about; he seemed in an *awful* tizzy.”
  983. “Sure…”
  984. >But that will have to wait.
  985. >You have bigger problems walking your way – a rather pissed off unicorn, in fact.
  986. >”It’s going to take the staff a couple minutes to fix everything up,” Shining Armor growls at you. “I think you and me need to have a little talk.”
  987. >He jerks his head towards a distant door – probably a door to one of the service corridors.
  988. >”Come with me.”
  989. >You knew this day would happen, might as well get it over with. You follow the stallion to the empty corridor, distressingly aware that he’s wearing a suit of armor and you’re wearing a floral shirt.
  990. >As soon as the door shuts behind you, he raises his hoof.
  991. >And holds it up.
  992. >And waits, looking more and more uncomfortable.
  993. >”Dude, don’t leave me hanging.”
  994. >Hesitantly, you reach out and tap Shining Armor’s hoof with your fist.
  995. >The stallion smiles, letting the leg drop.
  996. “So, we’re skipping the angry Big Brother murder time?”
  997. >”Absolutely!” he laughs. “My little sister has a coltfriend. I’m just happy you aren’t *fictional*.”
  998. >His face turns serious.
  999. >”Really. Cadance and I were both worried she’d lose her virginity to a book. Besides,” he pauses for a second to shrug, “my wife speaks highly of you. I can’t always be there for Twily anymore; it’s good to know there’s somepony who can.”
  1000. “That sounds… surprisingly rational.”
  1001. >”I know, right?” Shiny snorts. “That always surprises everypony.”
  1002. “To be fair to them, you *are* in the Guard.”
  1003. >”Yeah, and I can string a coherent thought together when most of those ponies don’t even have a personality,” he laughs. “Made it *really* easy to work my way to the top.”
  1004. >You both have a good chuckle at that, though for your part it’s partially out of relief you aren’t about to be pummeled.
  1005. >”Look, I know everypony thinks the older brother is always supposed to be angry at his sister’s coltfriend, but I just can’t be.” Shining grins happily. “Unless you hurt her. Then I break you.”
  1006. “Harsh, but fair.”
  1007. >The unicorn nods once.
  1008. >”But until that day… well…” Shining Armor jerks his head towards the door. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
  1009. “We gotta fuck with everypony?”
  1010. >”Yep.”
  1011. “Fair warning – I’m *always* thinking that.”
  1012. >”I know.”
  1013. “Who told you?”
  1014. >Was it Cadance or Twilight? Celestia or Luna? Or possibly Spike? Rarity?
  1015. >Which of your friends betrayed you?
  1016. >”Nopony had to tell me,” Shining Armor laughs. “Being able to talk isn’t the only reason I was promoted – I’m also a pretty good judge of character.”
  1017. >And yet he’s okay with you dating his sister? Sounds like a pretty shitty judge of character.
  1018. ”So, how do you want to do this?”
  1019. >He taps his chin thoughtfully with one hoof.
  1020. >”Well, what’s your character?”
  1021. “Lawful Evil Merchant.”
  1022. >That makes Shining Armor appear to reassess his beliefs – primarily the one about you being a decent match for Twilight.
  1023. >”Well, perfect, I guess,” he finally responds. “Lawful Good Paladin. I know – big surprise!”
  1024. “I think we can make this work.”
  1025. >”I hope so,” Shining Armor grimaces, eyes darting back towards the door, “but I’m a little worried. I have no idea what they have planned for the event – I slipped everything I could get out of Spike to Twily or Rarity, but it wasn’t much. Nothing actually about the game.”
  1026. “Doesn’t really matter, as long as we have fun, right?”
  1027. >”No, way! Having fun is important, but I play to win!”
  1028. >You shrug. It’s not exactly your way, but people –ponies – have accused you of putting victory ahead of enjoyability before. Some of them are just on the other side of this wall.
  1029. “Whatever happens, let’s still try to make sure everypony has a good time.”
  1030. >Your companion sighs, glancing at the door again. You can tell what he’s thinking – that won’t be up to just the game.
  1031. >”Let me talk with them,” he says after some hesitation. “Twily can’t do that again, but it wasn’t entirely her fault. Let me talk to them alone.”
  1032. >You nod.
  1033. ”Good to go, then?”
  1034. >”Yeah, let’s do this.”
  1035. >You open the door, letting the unicorn enter first. Most of the invitees have taken their seats, though a few still dawdle by the refreshment table. Just as you expected, Shining Armor makes a beeline straight for Sunny Smiles and Moonbeam – both frown as they see him coming, but for different reasons, you expect.
  1036. >Cheerilee waves to you from her table – her entire group is assembled now, including a rather disgruntled looking Berry Punch and… and Lyra wasn’t joking. She *did* get Octavia to fill in.
  1037. >“I don’t even know how this game is played,” the musician is complaining to the mare beside her. ”Couldn’t you have at least tried to get me drunk first? After that, I usually don’t care about the rules.”
  1038. >”Well, shit, I was going to,” Lyra answers with a grin, “but I wasn’t expecting you to agree to come so quickly! Really, you have nopony but yourself to blame!”
  1039. >Octavia stares at her mint “friend” for long seconds.
  1040. >She blinks once, slowly.
  1041. >”Indeed,” she says, looking back to her character sheet.
  1042. >Cheerlee leans forward, resting her forelegs on the table.
  1043. >”Look, if you have any problems, just ask. We’re here to help,” the teacher offers, giving the grey pony a reassuring smile. “Thanks for doing this, we’re not sure who else we could have asked.”
  1044. >”Besides any one of the thousands of ponies outside this room,” Trixie comments, “but that really shouldn’t matter. You have a decent character, so as long as you don’t have her do anything too silly, it should all work out.”
  1045. >Octavia ponders it over for a minute before nodding, trusting to Trixie’s experience.
  1046. >”How is this game won?” she asks, setting aside the character sheet to focus on more important things. “Once I know that, perhaps –“
  1047. >”Tavi, you don’t *win* Bn’B!” Lyra shouts, slamming her hoof into the table. “You –“
  1048. >”Then why are we playing?”
  1049. “To tell a story.”
  1050. >The group looks up, seeing you for the first time.
  1051. “It’s like… an orchestra – the DM is your conductor, but unless you play along, he’s just some idiot waving a stick. Unless you’re working together, all you are producing is noise.”
  1052. >”Ah,” the earth pony grunts, “So we have to wait for the DM to tell us what we’re supposed to do.”
  1053. “Kind of, but remember – you don’t have to do it, so long as you’re working together, you can still tell a wonderful story.”
  1054. >”Something like freeform jazz?” she asks, displaying the barest spark of interest. “There are still rules to follow, but the players have wider freedom to tell their own story, and can completely abandon the song’s roots if that is the direction the music takes them?”
  1055. “Yes…?”
  1056. >”Interesting.”
  1057. >”What did that all mean?” Lyra asks, eyeing her friend.
  1058. >”It means you never did learn to play with a group, did you?” Octavia asks wryly. “Still playing your lyre solo. Pass me that rulebook, if you would? That *is* the primary one we follow, correct?”
  1059. “If you don’t mind, could I look at your character? After all, a musician is only as good as her instrument.”
  1060. >”I have often heard that said,” the mare responds, raising an eyebrow as she passes you her character sheet. “But I have heard a great many things.”
  1061. “Yeah, I think it’s bullshit, but a decent character never hurt.”
  1062. “Indeed not.”
  1063. >You take a quick look at the page.
  1064. >A quick look, because that’s all it takes – you don’t need to go into details when you can see it clear as day.
  1065. “Trixie, did you make this?”
  1066. >”I made *all* of our characters,” the magician answers smugly.
  1067. >”It’s kind of a special occasion,” Berry Punch chimes in. “We wanted to do this right.”
  1068. “Well, that certainly takes some stress off my mind. Might make things a lot easier.”
  1069. >The group stares at you suspiciously – except Octavia, she’s carefully reading over the basic rules.
  1070. >”You’ve got something planned, don’t you?” Cheerilee asks, a smile cracking her face. “You *always* have something planned.”
  1071. “You’re right, I always have something planned. Sometimes, I even get to use it.”
  1072. >”Going to share?” Punchie asks, leaning forward in curiosity. “Or will we have to wait for the screaming to start?”
  1073. “The later. We’ll have to see if my party lets me do it.”
  1074. >You jerk your head back towards the table where Shining Armor and Sunny Smiles are talking in hushed whispers.
  1075. >”Oh. That fucking cunt,” Berry Punch sneers. “You can’t –“
  1076. >”You can’t talk like that!” Lyra gasps in horror. “You can’t use those words!”
  1077. >”My daughter’s not here – I can use whatever words I want,” the earth pony responds with a shrug, still staring viciously at the cosplayer.
  1078. “Where *are* the fillies?”
  1079. >You hadn’t noticed their absence until Berry Punch pointed it out – probably because you hadn’t noticed their presence this weekend until it had been pointed out to you.
  1080. >”With Sweetie Belle,” Cheerilee answers, Punchie is too busy being angry to hear your question. “They – and don’t ask, I don’t really know who ‘they’ are – finally let the little filly get a break to enjoy the con. Of course, she has a bodyguard with her – don’t really know why she has one, but I’m happy there’s somepony watching over the little ones.”
  1081. >That *does* sound weird. Just what the hell did Sweetie Belle audition for?
  1082. “Hey, I’m going to go check on the others – make sure to help Octavia out, okay?”
  1083. >”Sure thing!”
  1084. “Not you, Lyra.”
  1085. >The unicorn groans as you walk away.
  1086. >The other group is talking quietly, but urgently, books and papers passing hooves rapidly – only Fluttershy is calm. Though calm may not be the right word – despondent, maybe? Her forelegs are crossed on the tabletop, her head resting on them. The pegasus’s eyes flutter open as she hears you approach, but only barely.
  1087. “Hey ladies, what’s going on?”
  1088. >”Fluttershy suddenly decided she didn’t like her character,” Ponka whines. “*I* thought she was pretty awesome but –“
  1089. >”Don’t like her,” the little pegasus mumbles with surprising sobriety – you’ve just come to associate that pose with her being piss drunk. “I wanna play a different character.”
  1090. >”Yeah, so if you don’t mind, go away or help us,” Rainbow Dash says with an angry glare at you. “Preferably help us.”
  1091. >Pinkie and AJ nod in agreement even as the furiously flip through their books, but no matter what they show their friend, the little yellow mare just shakes her head.
  1092. >”Dangit, Fluttershy!” Applejack yells, flipping her book like a table. “Why couldn’tcha decide you hated her earlier! We coulda come up with somethin’ if you’d given us some time! Heck, you coulda just reused one o’ yer old ones!”
  1093. >”Don’t wanna use an old one,” Flutters moans, shaking her head.
  1094. >”Then what *do* you want to play?” Pinkie asks, shoving her face into her friend’s. She sits there, nose-to-nose with Fluttershy, staring at her expectantly.
  1095. “Can I take a look at it?”
  1096. >Dash points at a loose page on the table, not even looking away from her book.
  1097. >”It looked okay to me, a little weird, but *all* of our characters are a little weird,” Aredee tells you. “Hell, *I’d* play it!”
  1098. >You reach down and grab the sheet, looking it over carefully.
  1099. >Huh, it looks like the kind of thing you would have made for Flutters if she hadn’t dropped out of the Bn’B games.
  1100. >A cleric, because *of course* she has to play a healer, but a Cleric of the Moon. Interesting.
  1101. >Very interesting.
  1102. >Don’t often see a cleric with “Whirlwind Attack.” Usually healers don’t specialize in taking on multiple enemies at once outside of a CoDzilla build, which this definitely isn’t.
  1103. >Oh – “Righteous Fury”. That explains it. After a successful attack, immediately cast any prepared spell – nice ability. Pair that with an ability that grants multiple attacks? *Very* nice.
  1104. >A quick scan of the rest of the sheet shows similar abilities – all focused on replenishing spells, free casting, and getting as many attacks as possible.
  1105. >Equipment – full plate, war hammer, assorted other crap.
  1106. “Who made this?”
  1107. >Fluttershy doesn’t answer – the others can only shrug.
  1108. “TRIXIE!?”
  1109. >”WHAT?”
  1110. “DID YOU ROLL UP A SIGMARITE WARRIOR PRIEST FOR FLUTTERSHY?”
  1111. >”YES – UH, NO? TRIXIE HAS NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT.”
  1112. >Bullshit, Trixie. Bull. Shit.
  1113. >Of course she made it, because it’s exactly what you would have done and she’s basically a little blue female pony version of you.
  1114. >Still, a fun little build – it’ll make Flutters play differently than normal, but will still let her play what she wants to.
  1115. >So why won’t she use it?
  1116. “Don’t feel like playing a healer this time?”
  1117. >”No, I wanna play a healer,” the pegasus whines.
  1118. “Is it because it’s an earth pony? Because we can change –“
  1119. >”I don’t have anything against earth ponies.”
  1120. >Ponka – her face still pressed against Fluttershy’s – spontaneously hugs her friend. It’s very awkward looking, very weird and/or impossible, but Panks finds a way.
  1121. >Pocky *always* finds a way.
  1122. >“And I’m not racist against you either!” the pink pony cheers. “Yay, tolerance!”
  1123. >”yay.”
  1124. “So, I’m guessing you don’t want to use it because Trixie made it.”
  1125. >She whines wordlessly, eyes shut tight.
  1126. >”So what if Trixie’s the one that rolled it up?” Applejack asks, looking first to you, then to Fluttershy, then back to you. And with a shrug from you, back to “Sure, Ah think she’s kinda bitchy, but haven’t you two been spendin’ an awful lotta time together?”
  1127. >”Not anymore,” the pegasus mumbles into her arms. “She *hates* me.”
  1128. “No, she doesn’t.”
  1129. >”She doesn’t *need* me.”
  1130. “No, she doesn’t, but she told me she wouldn’t mind having a friend like you.”
  1131. >”Just not *me*.”
  1132. >The little pony sounds too depressed for tears.
  1133. >If anypony could still be depressed after a hug from Pinkie Pie, it would be Fluttershy. She’s still the only pony you know that can look sad while eating tacos.
  1134. >”I meant you.”
  1135. >Fluttershy’s head jerks up at Trixie’s voice – quite unfortunate for Ponka, who gets thrown backwards by the unexpected movemen.
  1136. >The earth pony flails wildly, trying to keep her balance as her stool teeters perilously underneath her.
  1137. >”I’m gonna – wait, no, everything is – OH CRAP, GONNA FALL – NONONONONONONONOKOKOKOKOKOK. DON’T WORRY, EVERYPONY, EVERYTHING WILL – OH CRAP, END IN DOOM AND DISASTER!”
  1138.  “Dammit, Ponks! At this point, you’re just rocking the stool on your own!”
  1139. >You drop the character sheet and lunge forward, grapping the little pony around her midsection.
  1140. “Were you *trying* to cause a scene?”
  1141. >”Yep!” Ponka answers proudly, bumping her nose into chin. “So now *that’s* settled –”
  1142. “You being loud and obnoxious?”
  1143. >”No, silly! Fluttershy’s character!”
  1144. >The little pony in your arms giggles as you watch Trixie trot back to her table.
  1145. >”Yeah,” Fluttershy says softly, pulling the paper you had just dropped over to herself. “I want to play this character.”
  1146. >You don’t know what Trixie said, but it worked.
  1147. >If you’re being honest with yourself, you’re not sure you want to know. Some things don’t need an audience.
  1148. “Well, problem solved, I guess.”
  1149. >”It’s what I do, ‘Nonny!”
  1150. “No, you *make* problems.”
  1151. >”Duh! That’s so I can solve ‘em later!” Panku giggles, tickling your face with her poofy mane. “Ooooh, I bet you want to know what everypony is playing! That’s why you came over here, isn’t it!”
  1152. “Can’t I just want to talk to my friends?”
  1153. >”Dude,” Aredee sighs, “I think you have an ulterior motive every time you take a *piss.*”
  1154. “And I didn’t think you knew fancy words like that. But since I’m here…”
  1155. >”Yeeeeeeees?” Ponk asks.
  1156. “You’re the most social of us all. I bet you talked to everpony in this room.”
  1157. >”And even the gryphons!” she proudly exclaims.
  1158. “Then could you give me a rundown on the groups?”
  1159. >Besides the two tables of Ponyville residents and one you and Twi will be at, there are three other tables full of players. The seventh and final table remains empty, probably for the DMs and staff to use.
  1160. “So, Ponka, think you can help me out?”
  1161. >”Sure!” she points to her table. “Pretty standard adventuring party – healer, fighter, thief, and all that. Same for them –“
  1162. >She points to Cheerilee’s table.
  1163. “I knew that. What about the others?”
  1164. >”Well…” she points to the table of gryphons, “… they’re powergamers. All running fighters of one kind or another. Party isn’t optimal, but their builds are.”
  1165. >That’s not going to end well. Might fit their local meta, but here? Probably not.
  1166. >”And that group over there – the one with the earth ponies – they’re from Fillydelphia. A little alpha-strikey – they focuses *way* too much on offense.”
  1167. >You can work with this.
  1168. >Frankly, the more glaring holes a party has, the more likely it is your plan will succeed.
  1169. >”And the last group is from Manehattan,” Punko sighs, obviously unhappy with something. “Another standard party, but… I have a feeling they’ll be playing it *weird*.”
  1170. >You can feel her fidgeting as she looks at the group.
  1171. >”Yep. Weirdness. I’m getting an eye flutter and two tail twitches.”
  1172. “So, what does that mean?”
  1173. >”Murderhobos,” your friend sighs. “There’s just no better way to put it. Looks like they spent a *lot* of time on their builds, but none at all on their character! They left the background section blank, ‘Nonny! BLANK!”
  1174. “There’s worse things they could have done.”
  1175. >”I know,” Ponka hisses. “Like roll up neutral characters!”
  1176. >She tries to look at you, bashing her muzzle into your chin again.
  1177. >”Guess what they did!”
  1178. “Roll up neutral characters?”
  1179. >”*Chaotic* neutral!” she grimaces. “Those *assholes!*”
  1180. >Ponka batters your arms lightly with her hooves.
  1181. >”Hey, hey! Set me down!” she tells you. “It’s hard to stare at them angrily dangling from your arms!”
  1182. >The mare starts barking when you don’t comply fast enough.
  1183. >Better not tell her what you made.
  1184. >You set her down on her stool and take two steps back.
  1185. “I’m just gonna…”
  1186. >You point to where Shining Armor is sitting.
  1187. >”Can Ah join you?” Applejack asks, eyeing the growling Ponka warily.
  1188. “I – I wouldn’t. You’re sitting right in front of her – she might take any movement as a sign to attack. Just remember, she can’t see you if you don’t move.”
  1189. >”R-really?”
  1190. “Nah. You’re fucked.”
  1191. >You slip away quickly, escaping to your table.
  1192. >Might not have been the best idea. Moonbeam looks exhausted, Shining Armor is pissed, and Sunny Smiles oddly victorious.
  1193. “Talk not go so well?”
  1194. >”It went *great*,” Sunny tells you, leaning forward to put her knees on the table and resting her chin on her hooves.
  1195. >”I swear, sister,” Moonbeam sighs, “it is days like this that I regret –”
  1196. >”Trying to murder me?” the white mare leers.
  1197. >” – not finishing the job.”
  1198. “Please tell me that just you two being in-character.”
  1199. >”Sure,” Sunny answers with a shrug. “Why not? It’s not as if this cunt could *actually* hurt me.”
  1200. >”Can we just start now?” Shining mumbles, staring at his character sheet.
  1201. >He does not look happy.
  1202. >Not at all.
  1203. “Make a last minute change?”
  1204. >”*I* did,” Sunny answers, jerking the sheet from Shining Armor’s hands to show you. “Look at what he’s playing *now*!”
  1205. “It’s a paladin.”
  1206. >”No! Well, yes, but it’s a mare!”
  1207. “And?”
  1208. >”He’s a stallion!”
  1209. “So?”
  1210. >”So… um… he’s playing a mare?”
  1211. >You shrug and attempt to seat yourself on one of the short, pony sized stools though that means twisting –
  1212. >Fuck it, you sit on the floor.
  1213. “Does that *really* matter? Hey, Shining Armor, are your stats any different?”
  1214. >”Nope. Bn’B only had -4 Strength for female characters in first edition,” he answers with a sigh. “Look, I don’t mind playing a mare, but –“
  1215. >”But you’re playing a mare!” Sunny Smiles laughs, waving the character sheet in the air for all to see.
  1216. “Why’s that funny?”
  1217. >The cosplayer’s eyes narrow and she glares at you angrily.
  1218. “Are you implying that mares are inherently inferior to stallions? Because while you’re free to make that argument…”
  1219. >Sunny furious gaze shifts to Shining Armor as your new brofriend snickers.
  1220. >”The human has a point,” Shining grins, jerking his character sheet from the pegasus’s hooves. “Somepony hand me a pencil?”
  1221. >Moonbeam tries to roll one over to the stallion, but Sunny Smiles slams a hoof down on the table, intercepting the pencil.
  1222. >”I’m not letting you change it back,” she tells the stallion in a menacing tone. “If you do –”
  1223. >”Relax,” he tells her, waving a hoof in front of her face. “I’m just changing her name. Cocksmite Murderblood isn’t really a good name for a mare.”
  1224. >You have a sudden suspicion that you’ll enjoy watching Shining Armor play a lawful good character. Any paladin named Cocksmite Murderblood is okay in your book.
  1225. >”Actually, I’m pretty used to playing female characters,” he admits, taking another pencil from Moonbeam – this one passed behind Sunny’s back. “Twi would never let me play a stallion, because ‘colts are yucky!’”
  1226. >He manages a fairly accurate, if wholely unconvincing, version of your marefriend’s voice.
  1227. >Shining Armor doesn’t even have to think about it – he jots down his character’s new name quickly.
  1228. >”I tend to reuse names a lot,” he admits sheepishly when he notices you watching him. “Nah, it’s not playing a mare that’s ANNOYING!”
  1229. >Sunny Smiles flinches away as Shining Armor yells the last word in her ear.
  1230. >”It’s the abuse of power,” he sneers. “If I’d wanted to play a mare, I woulda rolled up a mare!”
  1231. “Then just tell her to fuck off?”
  1232. >”I can’t just – just *tell* her to ‘fuck off’!” he gasps in horror, the cosplayer grinning wildly beside him. “Not to somepony like her!”
  1233. “Coward. I’ve told Celestia herself to fuck off, so there’s no reason you can’t tell *her*.”
  1234. >You wave towards Sunny Smiles, flipping your hand dismissively.
  1235. >Shining Armor’s eyes flare in panic as you say that – he leaps to his hooves, leaning over the table.
  1236. >”No, you don’t understand – I –“
  1237. “Gotta white knight for every twat, no matter how filthy?”
  1238. >”Not true at all,” he grumbles, “but somewhat accurate in this case.”
  1239. >All three of you jump in surprise as Moonbeam loudly slams a hoof into the table.
  1240. >”I have let many things slide, but enough is enough – you cannot say such things about my sister!” the pegasus hisses loudly. “She is NOT filthy!”
  1241. >”Thanks, Moonbeam!” Sunny smiles earnestly at her sister. “Good to know you have my –“
  1242. >”This bitch took the longest fucking shower in the entire history of Equestria!” the grey mare continues, talking right over her sister. “Used *all* of the hot water. She *better* not be filthy!”
  1243. >”Ouch, right in the fucking back,” she sneers. “Again.”
  1244. >“Get used to it,” Moonbeam tells her sister dully, “or stop being such a –“
  1245. >”Soggy bint?” Octavia suggests loudly from her table.
  1246. >Moonbeam’s outburst seems to have drawn the attention of much of the room.
  1247. >”Oddly poetic,” the grey pegasus comments, nodding appreciatively to the musician.
  1248. >Sunny collapses on herself, her head thumping against the table. She sighs. Loudly.
  1249. >”Fuck. You. All.”
  1250. >You share a look with Moonbeam and Shining Armor.
  1251. “I already turned you down.”
  1252. >”I’m married.”
  1253. >”And I’m your sister.”
  1254. >Sunny looks up and winks.
  1255. >”None of you are saying no,” she leers.
  1256. “SO, SHINY! Why don’t we just ignore that!”
  1257. >He nods vigorously.
  1258. “Mind if I take a look at your character?”
  1259. >”Not at all,” he answers, spinning the sheet around and sliding it across the table to you. “Look all you want – NOT ONE WORD, SUNNY!”
  1260. >”It’s okay, ‘Gleaming Shield,’” the cosplayer laughs, “some mares like it when a big strong stallion ogles their ‘stats.’”
  1261. >Shining Armor takes a deep breath and holds it for a second, closing his eyes in a futile attempt to block out his companion.
  1262. “Oh fuck yes, you should be proud of this. Not bad.”
  1263. >It’s still a paladin, and that sucks, but there are some interesting choices here. Like this background package.
  1264. “Magistrate?”
  1265. >”Yep,” he answers, still keeping his eyes closed - a good thing, since you’re not sure how he would react to the faces Sunny is making at him. “I consider it pretty essential to any effective Paladin build.”
  1266. “I think I have an idea, but care to explain anyway?”
  1267. >He is silent for a second, taking the time to organize his thoughts.
  1268. >Understandable – you’ve had to do the same frequently enough before. It’s difficult to explain things that have become second nature to you.
  1269. >”You know what I hate most about playing a paladin?” he asks, finally opening his eyes. They look almost sad. “I hate DMs trying to force me to choose between being lawful and being good. And it always happens. Always.”
  1270. >Which is why playing with a paladin in your party sucks – the DM always has to dick with that character. Always. Save the child or save the nun? Kill the innocent baby monster or let it live to fulfil its evil destiny? Need to torture a badguy? Nope! Paladin can’t let you!
  1271. >Paladins suck.
  1272. >”You know what makes being lawful *really* easy?” Shining questions, leaning forward. “Knowing the laws better than anypony else. Not just what I can’t do, but where the grey areas are. And then having the power and influence to fix the laws.”
  1273. >He leans back, smiling.
  1274. >”If a DM forces me to choose between doing the lawful thing and doing the right thing, *I do the right thing* and change the laws to match.”
  1275. “Interesting. So, when I get hauled in by the guards and ask for my lawyer, I get a hot paladin mare in full-plate.”
  1276. >”It certainly looks that way,” Sunny Smiles laughs, giving the Shining Armor a playful shove.
  1277. “You know, it’s an interesting take, but not really necessary.”
  1278. >”No,” he admits, “but it makes things much easier. How many ponies have DMed for you, besides Twily?”
  1279. “Just Cheerilee and – once – Trixie.”
  1280. >”Well, most ponies... well… they do what they’re supposed to, they see what they think they’re supposed to see. Including how Law and Good are supposed to interact. I mean, haven’t you noticed the number of broken builds in this game?”
  1281. >He barely pauses long enough for you to nod.
  1282. >”It’s not because they don’t do any playtesting –“
  1283. >Shining Armor’s next words are cut off as the doors slam open with a bang.
  1284. >”And here come our last two players,” Sunny Smiles says to herself with a grin, watching intently.
  1285. >The room quiets to frantic whispers as Twilight enters the room, Rarity following a few steps behind. Your princess isn’t in full royal regalia, but enough to make a statement. Her golden hoof caps click loudly as she walks across the room and the jewel in her torc sparkles brilliantly, catching everypony’s eyes.
  1286. >She crosses over to your table, ignoring the hushed words that fly in her wake. You only catch snatches amongst the background drone of constant conversation.
  1287. >”… could it really be…”
  1288. >”… was that her that decked Sunny…”
  1289. >”… the nerd princess…”
  1290. >”… it’s true, I can’t believe it’s true…”
  1291. >”… maybe Six Sider really is…”
  1292. >You look away for a second, to see Rarity slip away to join her own table. Whatever the unicorn did for your marefriend, it worked. She seems more confident, more in control.
  1293. >Of course, princesses tend to be.
  1294. >Sunny Smiles leers as your princess seats herself on the empty stool at your side, placing her between you and her brother.
  1295. >”Looks like *somepony* is going to be some fucking nerd’s clop fantasy tonight,” the pegasus hints. “Hope you don’t –“
  1296. >”Jealous?” your marefriend responds, not even glancing in Sunny’s direction. “I can’t imagine why.”
  1297. >The cosplayer’s face twists painfully – caught between feeling insulted and confused and possibly prideful, she ends up looking like she’s trying to hold in a sneeze.
  1298. >”Feeling better, Twily?” Shining Armor asks, putting a foreleg around his sister’s withers.
  1299. >”Of course,” she answers with a smile. “You can’t believe how much I’m looking forward to this.”
  1300. >Twilight sighs happily and hugs her brother.
  1301. >”It’s always a pleasure to play games with friends.”
  1302. >”So I’m your friend now?” Sunny Smiles asks, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. “Does that mean –“
  1303. >”It means we’re going to have a lot of fun tonight!” your little princess cheers. “All of us are! I just can’t wait to see what the new edition brings!”
  1304. >As if summoned by her words, the door to the service corridor opens. A line of event staff file in, seven in all, with Spike taking up the rear.
  1305. >You… you never knew a pony could have a neckbeard. *Be* a neckbeard, sure – that’s a given, considering your interests – but *have* one?
  1306. >Despite the parade of failures, it’s the last pony that catches your eye – the one talking with Spike, the one shrouded in heavy robes.
  1307. >If you had to guess, and you don’t really have to, you’d say that’s Six Sider.
  1308. >The other ponies – the DMs, you suspect – each head to a table and begin setting up.
  1309. >The orange stallion heading towards your table looks relatively normal. Relatively. A little on the well-padded side, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
  1310. >”Heya, I’m Dice Pool and I’ll be your DM for the campaign,” he introduces himself, confirming your suspicions.
  1311. >Not that they really needed confirming… you just like being right.
  1312. >Being right is awesome.
  1313. >He sits down at the head of the table, setting up his screen and other assorted gear.
  1314. >”I’m afraid I can’t really answer any questions about the scenario yet, but if you have any about how this is going to be run – yes, um, Anon?” Dice Pool glances down at one of his notepads. “Anon, that is your name, right?”
  1315. “Yeah, and I’ve got a few questions – are all of these groups playing concurrently in the same world?”
  1316. >He nods quickly.
  1317. >”Yes, that means you can meet up with each other,” the stallion preempts your next question. “And don’t worry, we’ll be pacing things to ensure every group is doing things at roughly the same time.”
  1318. >”That is a relief,” Moonbeam sighs, lightly nudging her sister. “Remember that event where one group ended up two years ahead of everypony else?”
  1319. >”Fuck yes,” Sunny Smiles groans. “That was a fucking nightmare!”
  1320. >Dice Pool smiles, shaking his head slightly as if remembering past horror stories.
  1321. >”Don’t worry, we’ve gotten this taken care of – Six Sider herself will be coordinating everything, with Spike acting as a go-between.”
  1322. >Herself.
  1323. >Interesting.
  1324. >He answers a few more questions from the others, engages in some small talk and looks over everypony’s characters. The DM frowns at Twilight’s, and outright gasps at yours.
  1325. >”Well, that’s broken,” he grumbles, but shrugs and passes the sheets back. “I’m just glad I’m stuck with you and not… well…”
  1326. >He jerks his head back towards Cheerilee’s table, where you can hear a constant stream of muttered profanities from the neckbeard DM.
  1327. >It sounds like that one song from that one musical, only without the singing and more nerd rage.
  1328. >Trixie, mah nigga.
  1329. >And then Dice Pool does something completely unexpected.
  1330. >”What’s your goal for this game?” he asks. “What are you looking to get out of it?”
  1331. >”I want to win, of course,” Shining Armor answers immediately, with Sunny Smiles nodding in agreement.
  1332. >”Action and laughs. Mostly laughs,” Moonbeam responds with a shrug. “Isn’t the goal up to you?”
  1333. >Dice Pool shakes his head and sighs.
  1334. >”Not quite – what if you all decide to form a commune? I can’t force the adventure on you,” he laughs slightly, before turning to you and Twilight. “And what do you two want?”
  1335. “To tell a good story.”
  1336. >”To tell a good story,” Twilight answers at the same time.
  1337. >You glance at each other and laugh.
  1338. >”We shall see what we can do.”
  1339. >Unnoticed, Six Sider has slipped up behind you, now all-but looming over you. She’s a big pony – easily as tall as the princesses, but sitting on the ground isn’t helping you out in the height contest. And that voice – that voice sounds familiar.
  1340. >You turn to face her, as does everyone else in the room.
  1341. >”That is the point of this event, after all,” she says, casting her head around to engage the whole room. “We are here to tell a story. A *very* important story. I’m afraid you have all been misled – a new edition is not being released tonight – it is being created. We are here to craft a new setting for a new edition of Burrows and Basilisks.”
  1342. >”But… why?” Twilight gasps, her calm ‘princess of friendship’ façade cracking. Now she’s just your princess once again, and looking like she wants to cry. “Why would we do that? We’ve all adventured and explored this world for years – why would me create a new one?”
  1343. >”Perhaps I misspoke – it’s still in the same *world*,” Six Sider answers, tilting her head slightly, “just different setting – a different time.”
  1344. >”But why?” your little princess asks again.
  1345. >“Because the timeline has to advance.”
  1346. >You catch a glimpse of golden hooves as Six Sider shuffles nervously at Twilight’s continued questioning.
  1347. >”Why does the timeline have to advance?” Twilight demands. “There were still so many stories to be told, so many adventures to undertake! What’s wrong with the current setting!”
  1348. >Six Sider sighs loudly.
  1349. >”You are right, my little pony – there was nothing wrong with that setting, but it’s time has come to an end.”
  1350. >”Why…?” Twilight pleads.
  1351. >“Because *somepony* –“ a long white leg frees itself from the robe, its gold-capped hoof tapping your chest lightly – but accusingly, “ – *somepony* ended it. For fifty years the second moon has hung ominously overhead. For fifty years, the absence of the Guardian Moon has dictated a setting full of danger and strife, where only the deeds of great heroes can keep the world safe. But two weeks ago, *somepony* brought it all to an end with the fall of the second moon and the return of the Protector of the Night. The Celestial Guardian is whole once again.”
  1352. “Pissed I beat your game, *Celestia*?”
  1353. >The mare laughs deep from within her cowl.
  1354. >”No, never that,” she sighs, shedding her robes in a second with the help of her magic. “And there wasn’t really any point to hiding this anymore, was there, my human?”
  1355. >Nopony says a word – nopony dares speak to the white alicorn standing before you, her golden regalia almost glowing in the light. The sudden revelation that there are *two* nerd princesses has fried most of their brains.
  1356. >”Two weeks ago,” Celestia says loudly, poking at your floral shirt again, “this human, *this guy* pulled a double Henderson on our world. We are here to see what happens next.”
  1357. >”Maybe before that, we should find out what already happened,” one of the ponies from Fillydelphia comments. “Dunno about the rest of you, but I’m feeling kinda like an NPC.”
  1358. >Celestia smiles tolerantly at the mare.
  1359. >”Of course, my little pony.” The princess shifts her head to look at your marefriend. “Twilight Sparkle, if you could bring everypony up to speed?”
  1360. >Twi stands hesitantly, looking around timidly. It sure didn’t take long for her to go from confident princess to her usual scared-of-attention nerdette.
  1361. >Gods, you love her.
  1362. >”W-well… two weeks ago, I came up with a scenario that was too difficult and –“
  1363. >She stops when Sunny Smiles reaches over and taps her on the back.
  1364. >”Don’t give us the boring version,” the cosplayer says in an oddly encouraging way. “Tell it *right*.”
  1365. >Your princess hesitates for a second before nodding.
  1366. >”Two weeks ago, the Lich attempted to rise once again. Without the Moon to stop him, a brave band of heroes traveled forth to stop him – a foolhearty bard, a caring priestess, a dutiful assassin, a wise barbarian, and a fallen paladin with no name who kept his face hidden at all times.”
  1367. > Shining Armor raises an eyebrow at the last bit and snorts as if trying to hold back a chuckle.
  1368. >You lean over to whisper in his ear.
  1369. “Yes, I played a paladin. Shut up.”
  1370. >Twilight rolls her eyes at the two of you before continuing.
  1371. >“They lacked the power to defeat the Lich, or to even face his minions –“
  1372. >”Hey, we coulda taken ‘em eventually!” Dash whines.
  1373. >” – and in the end, they realized that only the power of the Moon could end this threat. But of course, she was distracted – she was hunting for the thief who had stolen that which was most precious to her. She could not see the threat growing, nor would she have the power to stop it – not with so much of it bound to the second moon.”
  1374. >”We *know* this,” one of the gryphons heckles, only to be beaten down by one of his companions.
  1375. >Twilight nods in his direction.
  1376. >”As did our heroes, yet they persevered,” your little princess continues. “And in the end, they confronted the regrowing fragment of evil incarnate.”
  1377. >”And then they all died,” one of the Manehattan ponies blurts out. “The Lich isn’t even statted – PCs can’t hurt it, only the Celestial Guardians can.”
  1378. >”Indeed,” Twilight concedes, “no mortal can hurt a being of such power. In the end, they relied on the goddess.”
  1379. >”Who was too busy searching for the thief to do anything,” another pony from Fillydelphia points out.
  1380. >”Then it was a good thing he revealed himself, isn’t it?” your princess tells the room with a smile. “The paladin threw back his hood and revealed himself to the night sky, bringing the Moon’s hoof crashing down on himself – and the Lich. With one move, he ended its threat not just for the moment, but for all time as the Celestial Guardian was made whole once again.”
  1381. >”Well, *that* changes things,” a Fillydelphian remarks with a nod of his head. “What had the paladin stolen?”
  1382. >”Her heart.”
  1383. >”Huh,” he grunts. “That was an interesting take on it.”
  1384. >He stomps lightly in applause.
  1385. >”That was my thought as well,” Celestia says, dipping her head dangerously close to yours. “That was well done, my human.”
  1386. >She looks like she wants to say more, like there’s something she wants to whisper to you.
  1387. >”I –“
  1388. >”Get the fuck on with it, skank!” Sunny Smiles yells, shoving the table angrily and slamming it into your back. Your body is flung forward – the princess elegantly sidesteps your head as it snaps forward, narrowly misses smashing into her face.
  1389. >That’s going to hurt in the morning. Hell, it hurts *now*.
  1390. “I am going to *kill* you.”
  1391. >You look over your shoulder, glaring furiously at the pegasus.
  1392. >”I’ll help,” Moonbeam offers.
  1393. >Where – where did she get that knife…?
  1394. >Shining Armor half-stands, watching the pegasus carefully – odd, how he rises to defend Sunny Smiles even as she slanders Celestia.
  1395. >”Later,” Twilight calmly tells the grey mare, ignoring her brother’s warning stare. “We might need her character tonight.”
  1396. >Moonbeam shrugs and the knife disappears up a sleeve.
  1397. >”Your call, princess,” the cosplayer says in a bored tone.
  1398. >”Sounds like a wise idea,” Celestia comments, nostrils flaring angrily. “Let’s *try* to hold off on the murder if we can.”
  1399. >She turns away and walks slowly to the last table – the empty table – though you think you can hear her mutter some parting words under her breath.
  1400. >”But if you cannot, I will be *very* understanding.”
  1401. >From the way Twilight’s face pales, you probably didn’t imagine it.
  1402. >Celestia daintily seats herself at the table while Spike rushes around hauling over and setting up assorted paraphernalia.
  1403. >”Just need to bring in a few more books – anything else I can get you?” he asks the princess.
  1404. >She seems to perk up under his attention, her ears standing stall and her mouth curling up in a slight smile.
  1405. >”Just some tea, if you could.”
  1406. >”Sure thing!”
  1407. >Her smile grows slightly, leaving the princesses looking if not happy, then at least satisfied.
  1408. >“Now that is out of the way, shall we begin?” Celestia asks. “I would like to get our new world sorted as soon as possible. As Twilight Sparkle said, there are still so many stories to tell – oh, thank you, Spike.”
  1409. >She magically lifts the teacup from the little dragon’s hands and takes a tiny sip.
  1410. >As if it were a sign, the DMs begin rustling through pages and rattling off opening spiels. For some reason, Dice Pool doesn’t immediately launch into things like the others – he must have noticed that Twilight wasn’t quite done. Still, she hesitates until the DM gives her a quick nod.
  1411. >”Um… Princess Celestia?” your marefriend addresses the other alicorn timidly. “Do you really think we can create a new setting that will be just as good?”
  1412. >”Of course I do,” the princess laughs, her teeth shining even in the room’s dim light. “I hope you all *love* it.”
  1413. >Dice Pool looks around the table at the other players.
  1414. >”Everypony ready?”
  1415. “Actually, I haven’t had a look at everypony’s characters. Would you mind if…?”
  1416. >”Can’t wait to be introduced in-game?” For the first time, Dice Pool looks unhappy, perhaps even disappointed, though you have no idea why. “Sure, metagame to your heart’s content.”
  1417. >Ouch, that hurt. And completely unwarranted.
  1418. “It’s not metagaming – Abdul Goldberg would want to know the details of the mercenaries he is hiring.”
  1419. >You raise a hand to ward off Shining Armor’s objection, but the stallion nods.
  1420. >”Makes sense to me. Even paladins love getting paid.”
  1421. >You’ve already seen the unicorn Gleaming Shield, Paladin of the Sun.
  1422. >You were there when Twi created Rock Thrower the unicorn Artillerist.
  1423. >But Sunny Smiles’ and Moonbeam’s characters are new to you – they both pass you their character sheets without problem, Sunny even managing a smile as she does so.
  1424. “I think you’ll like this,” she hints.
  1425. >Neutral Evil… unicorn… fighter… oddly proficient with crossbows. Well, that last bit explains why Sunny rolled up a unicorn instead of an earth pony – she’s not looking for the extra melee damage earth ponies do if she doesn’t plan to engage her enemies in close combat.
  1426. >And it’s named Corn Cob.
  1427. >Never a good thing to find out one of your fellows is roleplaying *food*.
  1428. >At least she’s not named Mountain Dew, nor is she the kill-team’s Techmarine. *That*
  1429.  game was a nightmare.
  1430. >Dice Pool misinterprets your frown – he’s on his hooves trying to reassure you almost immediately, but there’s no need.
  1431. >You’re playing an evil character of your own.
  1432. >Why would Corn Cob’s alignment mean anything to you?
  1433. >Moonbeam’s character is all over the place. A few levels of monk, a few of rogue, something called a seeker that you vaguely remember hearing about at one point.
  1434. >You don’t really know where she’s going with this build. On the bright side, she probably doesn’t either.
  1435. >That’s probably not a bright side.
  1436. >Whatever it is, it’s unoptimized as FUCK.
  1437. >But with such a jumbled mess, Santo Fastball seems to be living up to his True Neutral philosophy.
  1438. >Not that he’s particularly balanced. *Unbalanced* seems a more accurate description
  1439. >Yes, Moonbeam is playing a male character. A *human* male.
  1440. >And from his drawbacks and perks, he just doesn’t seem to give a shit.
  1441. >It’s even written right there on his character sheet – “the Fastball doesn’t really care about anything anymore.”
  1442. “For the record, Fastball isn’t a human name.”
  1443. >”Eh.”
  1444. >Moonbeam shrugs, but only halfway.
  1445. >Dammit, she *really* doesn’t give a shit.
  1446. >With a nod of thanks, you hand their sheets back.
  1447. >”Should we get started now, or would you prefer to loot your armory first?”
  1448. >You raise an eyebrow at Dice Pool’s question – how does he know about that?
  1449. “Um, nah. I think we can wait until things get started – no sense grabbing gear if we don’t know what we need.“
  1450. >”I – um –“ Moonbeam stutters. “You have a point, and yet we are very disappointed to be denied access to an armory we knew nothing about seconds ago.”
  1451. >Dice Pool looks at her curiously.
  1452. >”You haven’t shown them yours, have you?”
  1453. “No.”
  1454. >At his gesture, you slide your sheet to the center of the table where everypony can read it. Twilight doesn’t bother to look as she’s the one who finalized everything – instead, she watches the other ponies’ faces as they read.
  1455. >”Four levels of Merchant!?” Sunny Smiles yells out. “What the hell!?”
  1456. >”Wait. What.”
  1457. >The room comes to a screeching halt as Celestia teleports to Sunny’s side in a flash of gold, almost knocking the cosplayer over. She quickly looks over the character sheet, taking it all in at a glance.
  1458. >”Hrmph,” she grunts, before jabbing at Sunny Smiles with one gold-clad hoof. “I *told* you this needed more playtesting, but NO!”
  1459. >GAH!
  1460. >Royal Canterlot Voice at point-blank range.
  1461. >Not a fun experience.
  1462. >Like someone firing off a shotgun right beside your head.
  1463. >Maybe *at* your head.
  1464. >You quickly dab at your ears, but your fingers come away unbloodied.
  1465. >Even Twi and Shining are stunned by the blast – only Sunny Smiles and Moonbeam appear relatively unphased, despite being the closest to Celestia.
  1466. >Relatively.
  1467. >And poor Dice Pool is practically trembling at the princess’s displeasure.
  1468. >”S-sorry, I t-thought it looked fun,” he stammers out.  “Should I have him make a new ch –“
  1469. >The alicorn’s head spins, a look of complete and total horror suddenly taking over her face.
  1470. >”No, you made the right decision, my most skilled servant,” Celestia murmers to him, moving to his side and briefly nuzzling his head. “It is I who made the mistake. Let him play his character.”
  1471. >The DM smiles at the brief touch, his worries melting away.
  1472. >”Thank you,” he says, looking at her adoringly. “But I do think we now have the first new rule of sixth – no new character should require appendices.”
  1473. >The cosplayers’ jaws drop.
  1474. >”What…?” they ask in unison.
  1475. >You point to the equipment box on your sheet – all it says is “See appendices A-C.”
  1476. “You see… when purchasing equipment before the game, you get to ignore availability restrictions, so I loaded up with as much rare gear as possible. Combine that with –“
  1477. >” – the rules for purchasing large quantities of items?”
  1478. “You got it, Dice Pool.”
  1479. >You reach into your bag and pull out several additional pages.
  1480. “Appendix A is the armory that our DM guessed at. Should have enough magical weapons and armor to equip everyponies’s characters.
  1481. >Shining Armor snatches the pages from your hand, looking over them intently.
  1482. “Appendix B records my hirelings. Mostly the clerics and clerks that serve Abdul Goldberg”
  1483. >You put forth the last – and shortest – of the lists.
  1484. “Appendix C – holdings – primarily hospitals, banks and shops scattered throughout the land. I’ve got something in every city.”
  1485. >”Hospitals?” Shining Armor hisses, eyes narrowing suspiciously. “Why?”
  1486. “Universal healthcare at a low price.”
  1487. >The stallion nods grudgingly, though you’re not sure he sees how that fits your character’s alignment.
  1488. >”I see. Make everypony reliant on your good will, and if somepony angers you…“
  1489. >Ah, he does.
  1490. “Then they can feel free to find someplace else willing to care for them, if there are still any healers in town not under my employ.”
  1491. >”I believe you are right, my favored dungeon master,” you hear Celestia whisper to Dice Pool. “No character should have appendices. Are you still sure you are prepared for this?”
  1492. >The DM holds up his notebook for her to see – less than half of the page is filled.
  1493. >”Of course, because I didn’t prepare at all.”
  1494. >Ah, a pony after your own heart.
  1495. >”Then begin at any time,” the princess tells him. “And the rest of you – feel free to resume your games. This has no effect on you.”
  1496. >Did Celestia just wink at you?
  1497. >”Yet.”
  1498. >She just winked at you!
  1499. >”Spike, another cup of tea if you would,” she calls out, walking back to her table – and the upturned teacup that must have been spilled in her outburst.
  1500. >Good thing the cup was empty, otherwise all those books might have been ruined. Odd – you hadn’t thought she was drinking it that fast.
  1501. >Dice Pool clears his throat, drawing your attention back to your table.
  1502. >”We’re already behind the others, so let’s not waste any more time. You broke this setting, Anon – it’s time for you to fix it.”
  1503.  
  1504. >It has been eighteen months since everything changed, and the impact of the second moon is just now being felt.
  1505. >Oh, some effects were immediate – evils that had been plaguing the land were destroyed or sealed in a single night. Freed from the Darkness, civilization prospered – no longer did travelers or merchants fear traveling at night, no longer were the majority of stallions employed in the unproductive roll of a soldier or guard.
  1506. >No longer necessary to ward off evil, these stallions rejoined the workforce – industries that could barely meet demand before boomed as they were able to rapidly expand.
  1507. >But not every ex-soldier had the skills necessary to take up civilian jobs.
  1508. >Not all had an interest in such things.
  1509. >Some became adventurers, helping the Moon’s paladins hunt down and destroy the evils that were beneath Her notice.
  1510. >They were welcomed with open arms – the paladin’s ranks had been greatly thinned by fifty years of constant strife.
  1511. >Ranks that were swelled by the huge numbers of suddenly unemployed soldiers.
  1512. >But not every applicant was suitable, and not every temple had the room to hold every suitable applicant.
  1513. >Many were turned away – far more than were accepted.
  1514. >Most of them were honest, hardworking stallions. Some tried to change, some tried to find a way to live that didn’t involve warfare. But none of them wanted to starve.
  1515. >It has been eighteen months since everything changed, and now many of these stallions have turned to banditry or become mercenaries.
  1516. >As cities and towns expanded, they came into conflict over land and resources.
  1517. >Without fear of the Darkness to unify them, civilization has fragmented. Instead of standing side-by-side and fighting against evil, they fight against one another.
  1518. >Trade has slowed to a crawl as cities refuse to deal with each other, afraid that the goods and materials they trade away will allow their rivals to grow in prominence.
  1519. >What little remains is preyed upon by the ever-growing number of ex-soldiers and adventurers that cannot find honest ways to keep themselves fed.
  1520. >Once more, the Moon does nothing to help – these are bands of desperate ponies trying to survive, not evil monsters set on destroying the world.
  1521. >The Sun is equally powerless – her mercy stretched to its limits.
  1522. >The church is divided – not between night and day, but between how to deal with the issues it now faces. Some believe they only need wait for society to stabilize, while others demand the Church of the Celestial Guardians takes action now, that their paladins be unleashed to confront this new brand of evil. But not all of the paladins agree – these are their fellows they would be fighting, other soldiers that they had stood with in the war against the Darkness. Some believe the war needs to be carried to the Darkin instead – not only are they creatures twisted by evil, they are occupying land that could be put to use by pure souls.
  1523. >And some wonder about the new star that blazes brightly in the night sky.
  1524. >It has been eighteen months since everything changed – it is time it changed again.
  1525.  
  1526. >Dice Pool leans forward, his eyes barely peering over his DM screen. They dart back and forth, making contact with everypony at the table.
  1527. >Making sure that everypony is paying attention, that everypony knows the importance of his next words.
  1528. >”What do?”
  1529. >”It’s a little funny how every city is at odds with the others,” Sunny Smiles starts off slowly, keeping her eyes focused on the table. “Not the conflict – no, I can see how that would happen. But if trade is restricted, how does Abdul Goldberg manage to keep his business afloat?”
  1530.  
  1531. “They are afraid to refuse my caravans – what if I pull all support from their hospitals and temples? In some cases, me and mine are the only source of food and medicine, unless those living there wish to prey upon the rats. But you have a point – my position *is* precarious.”
  1532. >In more ways than one – not only have your clients begun to demand more and more, you have had to hire on additional guards to protect your caravans. Monsters were one thing – they were often independent creatures, not used to fighting together and, for the most part, easily dispatched.
  1533. >Bandits do not fight alone, nor are they untrained and unarmed.
  1534. >Unlike the mindless beasts of the dark, they see the wisdom in letting overly difficult targets pass by unmolested – but that requires hiring enough guards to make your caravans unassailable.
  1535. >It is cutting into profits, even considering the inflated prices you have been able to charge as of late.
  1536. ”Why do you think I have hired you? To trim my lawn?”
  1537. >Corn Cob and Santo shrug – they have been mercenaries since before the fall of the second moon, eccentric employers are sometimes the best employers.
  1538. >But the paladin – Gleaming Shield – she bristled at the question, armor plates clashing noisily as shuffles about.
  1539. >”I suspect you plan to start a war,” she accuses. “I’ll take no part in such evil, *human*, regardless of what you offer in reward.”
  1540. “Even if it is for the greater good?”
  1541. >”Even so – your kind always put such emphasis on sacrificing for the good of others, but I suspect you don’t wish to sacrifice *yourself*.”
  1542. “Of course not, but neither do I wish to start a war – hiring even *more* guards seems counterproductive to maintaining my rather comfortable way of life.”
  1543. >”Then what is your plan?”
  1544.  
  1545. >”Seriously, what is it?” Shining Armor glares at you, ignoring the panicked gasp of his little sister. “Decimate the population? Kill all the bandits? Set yourself up as a king – or a god?”
  1546. “Look, I know you’re suspicious because I’m playing an evil character, but –“
  1547. >He slams a hoof into the table, making pencils and dice jump.
  1548. >”No, I’m suspicious because you’re *human*,” he snarls. “It’s how your kind are.”
  1549. >To your right, Twi begins quietly whining wordlessly, unsure what to say or do.
  1550. “What about Moonbeam?”
  1551. >You wave a hand at the grey mare.
  1552. “She’s playing a human too.”
  1553. >”I’m not talking about your character,” the unicorn growls, looming over the table. “I’m talking about *you*.”
  1554. >Even Sunny Smiles is starting to look a little worried – maybe she’s worried that you’ll get beaten up too badly to fuck her later.
  1555. >Stupid whorse.
  1556. >Shiny’s a good actor, but can’t she tell he’s just playing?
  1557. >He is, right?
  1558. >”Sit down,” the mare says, pulling him back to his stool. “Let’s hear him out.”
  1559. “Actually, I don’t have a plan. Really, I don’t – I wasn’t expecting this.”
  1560. >Dice Pool laughs and reaches over to pat your shoulder.
  1561. >”Sounds like you better come up with one soon – the natives are getting restless.”
  1562. “Isn’t it your job to give the quests?”
  1563. >The DM shrugs.
  1564. >”Maybe, but Abdul Goldberg is a better questgiver than anything I could provide.”
  1565.  
  1566. >You pace nervously as you try to think of a way to explain your plan.
  1567. “The problem is a surplus of adventurers – and while Gleaming Shield’s *suggestions* are possible, I have a radically different solution in mind. We need to unionize the adventurers, bring them together into a single organization.”
  1568. >”I dunno if that’ll be enough,” Santo says, looking over a map hanging from one of the walls – Goldberg’s holdings and business interests dot the mapin bright red ink. “Seems to me the problem is that almost none of ‘em had any skills to fall back on. Or savings.”
  1569. >His fingers dance as he taps on several of them – the banks, you realize.
  1570. >”At least you have the infrastructure in place for that last bit.”
  1571.  
  1572. “So you’re saying I need to fund trade schools, too?”
  1573. >”Obviously.”
  1574. >Dice Pool raps on the table with his hoof, drawing your attention.
  1575. >”So, your goal is to unionize the adventurers to provide them with regular employment, healthcare, training facilities, and savings plans or unemployment insurance?”
  1576. “Um… basically something like that? I think?”
  1577. >”I guess it’s okay,” Shining Armor sighs. “Better than anything else I’d expect him to come up with. In fact, I bet Twily thought of that. Didn’t you, sis?”
  1578. >”Huh? Um, no,” your marefriend answers, giving her brother a harsh look. “I haven’t done *anything* for this game besides create my character.”
  1579. >From the way Shining Armor scoffs, it appears he refuses to believe that.
  1580. >”Well, doesn’t matter who came up with it,” Dice Pool comments, jotting down something on his notepad. “I’m going to go run this by – by Princess Celestia. Now would be a good time for you to loot the armory.”
  1581. >He stands, but quickly whirls back to face you.
  1582. >”Just one last thing – any idea how you’ll go about this?”
  1583.  
  1584. >”A… *noble* idea,” Corn Cob says thoughtfully, “but doomed to failure. Not everypony will go along with this. Not everypony will be interested, but some will actively oppose you. You would, after all, be draining the recruiting pool – undoubtedly certain bandit kings would hate to give up their lifestyles as much as you do.”
  1585. “O-of course! That is why I have hired you – to protect me!”
  1586.  
  1587. >”Wait – this line.” Moonbeam shoves a page from Appendix A towards you, her hoof indicating one particular item. “Twenty-six catapults. Why do you have twenty-six catapults and how would you ever use those to defend yourself?”
  1588.  
  1589. >”That would be on my behalf.”
  1590. >A hooded Diamond Dog crawls out of the shadows, her clothing of a quality at odds with the stereotypes.
  1591. >”Rock Thrower, Artillerist,” the beast introduces itself, “and Abdul’s bitch.”
  1592.  
  1593. >Smoke might be rising from Shining Armor’s ears.
  1594. >Dude’s pissed – he isn’t playing around anymore.
  1595. “Don’t – don’t do that. That word isn’t used that way.”
  1596. >Your words might not be enough to save you from Angry Brother Beatdowns, but it’s worth a shot.
  1597. >”But, I’m playing a female Diamond Dog,” your princess VERY UNHELPFULLY points out. “It’s the right word! I know it’s sometimes used in a derogatory manner, but –”
  1598. >Her jaw snaps shut at the first laugh from Sunny Smiles.
  1599. >”Oh, you dumb *bitch*,” the cosplayer snickers, “do you help him choke his cock, too?”
  1600. >Your marefriend leaps forward, planting her forehooves on the table’s edge to raise herself up – this brings head almost, but not quite, level with the other mare’s.
  1601. >”Just what the hell does that mean!?” Twi demands. “Anon doesn’t even have any roosters, and why would we hurt them!?”
  1602. >Still laughing, Sunny Smiles copies Twilight’s pose, her height making her loom over the alicorn.
  1603. >”What it means is *somepony* needs to explain things to you,” the pegasus snarks. “Anon, you wanna throw your doggy marefriend a bone?”
  1604. >Oh gods, is she pelvic thrusting?
  1605. >She’s pelvic thrusting.
  1606. >You’ve never seen a pony do that.
  1607. >Ponies shouldn’t be able to do that.
  1608. >Like, anatomically shouldn’t be able to.
  1609. >They might be physically capable, BUT THEY SHOULDN’T BE.
  1610. >A solution presents itself.
  1611. >Break her hip.
  1612. >This will solve all kinds of –
  1613. >Oh, Shining Armor is already on it – dude’s a real bro.
  1614. >”Sit down and shut up,” he growls, slamming his hooves onto Sunny Smiles’ shoulders and pulling her back harshly. “She’s already given you one bloody nose – do you want another?”
  1615. >The mare struggles for a moment – from Shining Armor’s worried look, she might have almost broken free of his grip – but eventually she lowers herself to her stool.
  1616. >”Hey, fine. Whatever,” Sunny Smiles whines, shrugging off the stallion’s hooves. “It’s not *my* sister pretending to be man’s best friend.”
  1617. >Moonbeam giggles lightly at Twilight’s sudden blush, hiding her mouth behind her character sheet.
  1618. >”For a princess, she sure is *whipped*,” the white pegasus hisses. “I bet he *made* her roll up a Diamond Dog!”
  1619. “Last I knew, Twi was playing a unicorn.”
  1620. >Your marefriend nods quickly.
  1621. >”It was a last minute change –“ she shouts in a panic “ – Anon didn’t know anything about it!”
  1622. >You really didn’t – this is as much a surprise to you as it is everypony else.
  1623. >It seems like it came as a surprise to her, too – she didn’t even change her character’s name.
  1624. >Shining Armor sighs, slumping down on his stool and staring wearily at his sister.
  1625. >”Are you really that eager to please your monster?”
  1626. >His words hit Twilight like a brick – she flinches, her face twisting in nearly-physical pain.
  1627. >”I can – I can change her back…” your princess whimpers. “Whatever it takes to get you two to stop fighting.”
  1628. >”Nope!”
  1629. >Damn, Dice Pool is still here. You’d forgotten about him.
  1630. >”Too late,” the DM tells your marefriend with a cruel smile. “The game has already started – you’re playing a Diamond Dog now!”
  1631. >The stallion tilts his head, looking at you and your teammates curiously.
  1632. >”Anyway, I think I have enough to get us started, so I’m going to go talk to – to the princess now. Try not to kill each other while I’m gone, will you?”
  1633. “Can our characters kill each other?”
  1634. >”I’d rather you didn’t,” Dice Pool says with a frown. “It would actually be quite – satisfying – if you could get along.”
  1635. >You have never seen four such surly ponies in your life – and you can only imagine your face matches theirs.
  1636. “No promises, but we’ll try.”
  1637. >”I’ll take what I can get,” he sighs, kicking at the floor. “Anything else I need to tell the princess?”
  1638. >You look around at your companions for a second.
  1639. “Are we all agreed on the basics at least?”
  1640. >Surprisingly, Twilight is the last to nod.
  1641. >Waiting to see which way the wind blows?
  1642. >Trying not to rock the boat?
  1643. >Fearful of making a mountain out of a molehill?
  1644. >Concerned about… um… starting a fucking forest fire like a twisted Smokey with a flamer?
  1645. >Okay, that kinda fell apart at the end, but it still seems the most likely reason.
  1646. >But in the end everypony agrees.
  1647. “Then I wish to send a message to all of the other groups – let them know what we’re up to and ask for their cooperation.”
  1648. >”Sure thing – I assume using your network of clerics to relay the message magically?”
  1649. “Seems like that would be fastest.”
  1650. >”Okie-doke! I’ll be right back.”
  1651. >The DM trots away quickly before any more can be said.
  1652. >”Do you have *any* idea where this is going?” Moonbeam asks, leaning forward and resting her chin on folded hooves. “*Any* clue at all?”
  1653. “I really don’t have a clue – I was expecting an actual… you know… adventure. Should have known this would go tits up as soon as I realized Six Sider was Celestia.”
  1654. >”Yeah!” Sunny cheers, stamping her hooves. “This is going to be awesome!”
  1655. >You can’t detect the slightest trace of sarcasm in her voice – she… um…
  1656. “I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means.”
  1657. >”Huh?” She jerks her head back, narrowing her eyes. “But everypony LOVES tits – so obviously you think this will go great!”
  1658. >Twi shoves her face into yours –
  1659. >Damn her curiosity!
  1660. > – her head tilts to one side, an ear flopping over as gravity takes hold – all her head muscles are busy with thinking.
  1661. >”Does “tits up” mean it’ll be embarrassing?” she asks slowly, thoughtfully. “Because if the mare – *woman* – is on the bottom and facing –“
  1662. >The table rocks as Shining Armor slams a hoof into it, almost flipping the poor thing in a sudden fit of –
  1663. >Well, it’s not rage. More like a look of total horror.
  1664. >”I can’t hear this,” he mumbles. “I know where this is going and I CAN’T HEAR THIS.”
  1665. >Score one point for you – until he recovers. Then he gets *two* points. One for each knee he’s going to break.
  1666. >You feel a light pressure on your back – rapid hoofsteps climbing up your spine, followed by a sudden curtain of pink that blocks out your vision.
  1667. >”I could stand to hear a little more,” Fluttershy giggles overhead, perching on your shoulders. “It’s breaktime!”
  1668. “Breaktime?”
  1669. >There are breaks?
  1670. >Since when has ADVENTURE had breaks?
  1671. >”Yep, breaktime!” Applejack confirms, shoving herself between you and Twi. “It’s how they’re keeping the groups on-track together.”
  1672. >Ah, that makes sense.
  1673. >”So hurry up!” Dash whines from somewhere behind you – you can’t see exactly where, considering you have a pony on your head. “Everypony is waiting on you!”
  1674. >Dammit, you can smell the alcohol on Fluttershy’s breath, as if her actions weren’t proof enough of her drinking.
  1675. “Who gave Fluttershy booze?”
  1676. >”What – you didn’t notice?” Aredee asks, shoving her face through the curtain of pink to stare at you. “They’ve started bringing in dinner.”
  1677. >A sudden gaping pit opens in your stomach, reminding you just how long it’s been since you’ve eaten. Has it been days?
  1678. >You think it’s been days.
  1679. >Oh gods, you smell *meat.*
  1680. >To be expected, really – you can’t expect gryphons and ponies to share much of a diet.
  1681. “Yeah, I think we’re done here. Breaktime!”
  1682. >“Good! Sooooo…” the little yellow pegasus paws at your scalp “… gonna tell me what you were talking about, or am I going to have to *beat* it out of you?”
  1683. >Marshmallow punches bounce harmlessly off your skull.
  1684. “Stop it, Flutter. Go ask Twilight.”
  1685. >You need MEAT.
  1686. >…
  1687. >In your mouth.
  1688. >…
  1689. >Hot, steaming meat.
  1690. >…
  1691. >GODDAMMIT BRAIN SHUT THE FUCK UP.
  1692. >”Are those burgers!?”
  1693. >It sounds like Sunny Smiles voice, but because of Fluttershy’s continued assault – though that word is overly harsh – you can’t be entirely positive. You feel a breeze – somepony just vaulted the table and bolted past you. Probably Sunny Smiles, but you’ll never know.
  1694. >Flutters needs to get off.
  1695. >…
  1696. >GODDAMMIT, BRAIN.
  1697. >FUCKING PIECE OF HERETICAL SHIT!
  1698. “Fluttershy, sweetie… could you please climb down?”
  1699. >”Why?”
  1700. >She leans over, booping your nose with hers.
  1701. “Because one way or another, my teeth need to tear into flesh. I prefer cooked, but –“
  1702. >And she’s gone.
  1703. >Free from the curtains that had cut you off from the world, you can see that even Twilight has abandoned you in favor of food, leaving you alone at the table with her brother.
  1704. >Is he going to murder you now?
  1705. >”Well, that was unexpected,” he sighs, staring past you.
  1706. >He’s going to murder you now, and stage it as a tragic, unfortunate roleplaying accident.
  1707. “The food…?”
  1708. >Bastard could at least wait until you’ve had one last meal.
  1709. >”Not that,” the stallion laughs, pointing over your shoulder with his hoof. “I meant Twily playing along.”
  1710. >You twist to see what Shining Armor is pointing at – oh, your princess is magically juggling three plates – one even has… oh yes… a burger on it. And not one of those dinky hayburgers.
  1711. >Is this what true love feels like?
  1712. >Huh?
  1713. >Playing along with what…?
  1714. >You catch movement out of the corner of your eye, and spin back – better to die with all your wounds to the fore.
  1715. >”I was thinking we were gonna have to dial it back,” Shining whispers conspiratorially. “Twily was starting to freak out.”
  1716. “Oh, right. Right! The ‘fuck with everypony’ thing!”
  1717. >He nods.
  1718. >”Yeah. You were *really* selling the ‘scared coltfriend’ bit – I was worried we’d gone too far, but then –“
  1719. >He grins.
  1720. >” – that whole bit about a mare on her back?”
  1721. >Murder imminent.
  1722. >”She caught on!” Shining Armor chuckles. “She’s trying to mess with *me* now!”
  1723. “Yay.”
  1724. >Murder delayed until your princess blurts out that it actually happened. Repeatedly. In multiple bodies.
  1725. >Or maybe he’s just fucking with *you* now.
  1726. >”I can’t believe she –“
  1727. >The stallion’s mouth snaps shut as Lyra throws herself onto the stool beside you.
  1728. >”Did you hear us!?” she asks excitedly, eyes sparkling like little jewels.
  1729. “Huh?”
  1730. >”Our encounter – you figured out how that’s being done, right?”
  1731. “Um, no?”
  1732. >”Oh.”
  1733. >Lyra sits back, her mouth squeezed tight like she’s having to reevaluate all her previously held beliefs about you.
  1734. >Apparently, you still pass, because she leans forward again.
  1735. >”Instead of keeping track of time, they’re keeping track of *encounters* – that’s how they’re stopping one party from getting too far ahead.”
  1736. >Ah. Makes sense – it’s a much nicer, *looser* system than actually measuring in-game time.
  1737. >Probably how you would have done it.
  1738. >”From what I overheard –“ Lyra cuts off abruptly as Shining Armor comes closer.
  1739. >”What? I wanted to hear,” he comments. “I’m part of this *too*, you know.”
  1740. >She eyes him cautiously, before throwing a foreleg over his withers and dragging him in close – beyond a second’s wide-eyed hesitation, the stallion doesn’t resist, the three of you coming together in a tight huddle.
  1741. >”Good to have you on-board, stud,” the mare grins before continuing. “It seems most groups had a combat encounter against bandits. We managed to get out of ours without any fighting thanks to Berry Punch, but we… um… we broke our DM.”
  1742. >You sit up straight, looking over the unicorns’ heads – Celestia is trying to console the poor neckbeard pony, but without much success.
  1743. >Damn, how had you missed whatever caused *that*?
  1744. >So much for Dice Pool having a little chat with the princess. You’ve seen breakdowns like this before – and caused a few of ‘em yourself – it’s going to take her a while to get him back to norm.
  1745. >Wisely, she escorts the neckbeard from the room.
  1746. “What did you do?”
  1747. >”Well, you heard that Trixie made all our characters, right?”
  1748. >”Is she really that bad?” Shining Armor asks, eyes wide. “Is she worse than Anon?”
  1749. >”Ehhh…” Lyra shrugs. “Maybe. But I think he shows a little more restraint.”
  1750. >Shining Armor’s horn lights up, magically grabbing Abdul Goldberg’s appendices and shoving them in Lyra’s face.
  1751. >”Restraint?” he hisses, shuffling the papers so Lyra can see everything. “He started the game with enough weaponry to equip an army! Also, with an army!”
  1752. “Yes, restraint. It could have been worse –“
  1753. >”How!?”
  1754. >You ignore his question, instead asking your own.
  1755. “What did Berry Punch do?”
  1756. >”Well, she’s playing an earth pony stallion named High Kick,” Lyra answers with a mischievous smile, “with eight levels of rogue and monks robes covered in stars.”
  1757. “And?”
  1758. >”And he singlehoofedly beat our encounter in two rolls.”
  1759. >You feel a hoof on your shoulder – a twist of your head reveals a very proud Berry Punch.
  1760. >”My name is High Kick,” she says in a deep, slightly accented voice. “Each star on my robe represents one of the mysteries of the Temple of the Sky Ascendant that I have mastered.”
  1761. “What?”
  1762. >”I know Pone Fu.”
  1763. “Roll to bluff, roll to intimidate?”
  1764. >”Indeed, grasshopper – a true warrior has no desire to spill blood unnecessarily,” the earth pony answers solemnly. “Also, they didn’t have anything worth looting.”
  1765. >Punchie pulls her hoof back, sidling over and seating herself on the DM’s stool.
  1766. >The screen is still standing – Dice Pool hadn’t bothered to put anything away.
  1767. >There’s nothing to hide.
  1768. >”So, what was your encounter?” she asks. “I don’t see any notes or npc sheets or anything.”
  1769. >Did your party even have a first encounter?
  1770. >”Well, maybe it wasn’t combat,” Lyra offers. “After all, your other friends got a non-combat encounter with some Moon Paladins. Same thing for you ponies?”
  1771. “No.”
  1772. >”Well, what was it?” both mares ask at once.
  1773. >You exchange a quick glance with Shining Armor – you’re both thinking the same thing.
  1774. “Ourselves.”
  1775. >A quick burst of green fire catches everyponies’ attention – the conversation dies down faster than the flame.
  1776. >”Hey, everypony!” Spike yells from atop Celestia’s table. “We’re going to resume the game in about thirty minutes, so get your chow on while you –“
  1777. >The rest of his words get drowned out as ponies resume talking.
  1778. >Poor little guy gets no respect.
  1779. >”Well, we better go grab something before it’s too late,” Lyra says apologetically, quickly jumping up.
  1780. >Berry Punch follows suit, once again leaving you alone with your marefriend’s brother.
  1781. >Luckily, Twilight returns before Shining Armor can begin talking again, dropping a plate in front of both of you.
  1782. “Thanks, Twilight.”
  1783. >”I just wanted to make sure you got something you’d like,” she responds, giving you a gentle smile. “Fluttershy wasn’t going to make it easy for you.”
  1784. >Yes, that *is* a burger.
  1785. >You’ve occasionally eaten meat during the past year, but nothing like this.
  1786. >A few slices of pepperoni just do not compare.
  1787. “Thank the stars there’s a table of gryphons here.”
  1788. >”Oh?” Twilight asks as you dig in to your food. “Why?”
  1789. >The cosplaying sisters thump themselves down before you can answer.
  1790. >Just how many pieces of cake does one pony need?
  1791. >Whatever the answer is, Moonbeam has at least double that – she must have been carrying the extra plates on outstretched wings, because the table is suddenly and completely filled.
  1792. “I hope you don’t plan to eat all that yourself…”
  1793. >The grey mare raises an eyebrow at your comment.
  1794. >”Just making up for lost time,” she answers dryly. “Cake is often a… scarcity for me. Besides, it’s in character.”
  1795. >True enough, though Moonbeam hasn’t had her sister’s obsession with acting in character.
  1796. >Thankfully.
  1797. >Sunny Smiles only has a small hayburger and fries on her plate.
  1798. >”A mare’s gotta watch her figure,” she explains with a harsh whiny, thoroughly unconvincing.
  1799. >That cake *does* look good.
  1800. >”So what’s this about the gryphons?” Sunny Smiles asks, pulling off a bun and smearing her burger with mayo.
  1801. “I’m just happy there are some other meat-eaters around, otherwise I’d never have gotten to eat something like this.”
  1802. >Moonbeam’s mouth is too full, but she nods vigorously – it must have been a long time indeed since she’s had a chance to eat cake.
  1803. >But aren’t they supposed to be rich and popular, why would this be such a delicacy to her?
  1804. >She must be following a pretty strict diet most of the year.
  1805. >”I’m sure the organizers would have done *something* for you,” Shining Armor says with a shrug. He’s looking at his plate unhappily. “No drinks, Twily…?”
  1806. >”I got your food, you lazy bastard,” your marefriend answers with her mouth full of fries. “Get your own. And ours, while you’re up.”
  1807. >The unicorn snorts, but smiles and rises.
  1808. “Nah, I’m pretty sure this is only because of the gryphons. Or maybe random crazy luck.”
  1809. >Shining Armor continues to move away, but his ears do swivel to listen.
  1810. “This definitely wasn’t intended for me.”
  1811. >”Oh?” Sunny asks, craning forward to look at you intently. “Why would you say that?”
  1812. “Because Celestia is a cunt.”
  1813. >Moonbeam’s head jerks up from the piece of cake she had been devouring, dollops of frosting falling from her open mouth. Her eyes dance around wildly.
  1814. “Don’t worry, she’s not here.”
  1815. >”Why would you say that?” Sunny Smiles asks, her expression fading to one of… sadness?
  1816. >Weariness?
  1817. >That’s definitely a better word to describe it. She looks like a pony who has had the same conversation far too many times for it to matter anymore.
  1818. “Because she’s Six Sider – she organized this whole thing, right?”
  1819. >”Isn’t that a little –“
  1820. >”Eat your cake, you fucking fatty,” the Sunny Smiles says, jamming a knee into her sister’s side to shut her up. “There’s no fucking point arguing with this fucker.”
  1821. >The grey mare scowls – probably just from the attack – but goes back to her cake with the gusto of… of….
  1822. >A Tyranid presented with biomass?
  1823. >A zombie in a train full of cheese?
  1824. “She is the pony in charge, right?”
  1825. >Sunny Smiles’ head bobs after a brief moment of hesitation.
  1826. “This event is already a failure – she’s lost one DM already because Berry Punch rolled two dice and we didn’t even have an encounter planned for our group.”
  1827. >”Well, Trixie’s builds can be pretty brutal,” Twilight blurts out, wincing at your opinion of her mentor.
  1828. >“But one circumvented combat encounter is something to be *happy* about,” Sunny Smiles responds, waving a hoof in Twilight’s nose. “It shows your players are capable of things other than brute force.”
  1829. >That actually made sense.
  1830. >And was neither lewd nor vulgar.
  1831. “Careful, your act is slipping.”
  1832. >”Sorry, motherfucker,” the cosplayer laughs, “I’ll just fucking have to fucking try harder. Like you will tonight, trying to satisfy your chubby-ass motherfucking marefriend with your pencil-dick."
  1833. >”Hey!”
  1834. >Twilight stares angrily at the pegasus, one hoof planted firmly on the tabletop.
  1835. >”His dick is *not* small!”
  1836. >”Maybe not to you,” the cosplayer sneers, “but there’s a reason you’re called the ‘virgin princess.’ Sorry, *were* called.”
  1837. >”No, sister,” Moonbeam contradicts with a shake of her head. “She is called that because of her fans. She is the princess of virgins, not a virgin herself.”
  1838. >Sunny’s head tilts as she thinks it over.
  1839. >”Yeah, you’re fucking right,” the white mare concedes with a quick nod. “The closest most of those fuckers will ever fucking get to losing their V-card is jizzing on their fucking Twilight –“
  1840. >A deep growl behind you nearly has you falling out of your seat in shock.
  1841. >Shit, you’re going to die now.
  1842. >But at least that cunt will, too.
  1843. >That’s somewhat mollifying.
  1844. >Sunny’s eyes flare wide open and her mouth shuts tight as Shining Armor drops a trio of mugs on the table.
  1845. >”Don’t stop on my account,” the unicorn rumbles, sitting himself down on his stool. “I’m curious just how deep you can dig yourself.”
  1846. >”Probably to the knee,” Moonbeam snarks, reaching for yet another piece of cake.
  1847. >The stallion’s nostrils flare.
  1848. >”Not what I meant.”
  1849. >”Oh, um… okay…” Twilight holds both trembling forehooves out. “It’s about *this* long and –“
  1850. >Shining Armor’s head spins to face her.
  1851. >He spends far too long staring at distance between her hooves for your own comfort.
  1852. >”Also not what I meant,” he says after several seconds.
  1853. >Did he just give you a slight nod?
  1854. >”O-oh, okay,” your princess stammers, looking towards you fearfully. “Well, the f-first time –“
  1855. >“NEVERMIND!”
  1856. >Shining Armor throws his forehooves in the air in frustration.
  1857. >”Everypony just nevermind and shut up.”
  1858. >Cautiously, you reach for your mug.
  1859. >Oh.
  1860. >Beer.
  1861. >Cool.
  1862. >That might make tonight more bearable.
  1863. >By that, of course, you might get too drunk to stop yourself from slugging Sunny Smiles.
  1864. >Twilight follows your lead, nervously sipping from her –
  1865. >”Hey, you jerk!” she spits out angrily, smacking her mug into Shining Armor’s shoulder. “This is water!”
  1866. >Yep, she’s definitely his baby sister.
  1867. >”Oh, sorry,” Shining Armor mumbles into his own mug. “Should I have brought you juice?”
  1868. >Twilight hits him again, with the same total lack of effect.
  1869. >”Well, you seem to be in good spirits,” Dice Pool laughs, trotting from somewhere behind you to retake his place at the head of the table. “I hope that means you’re ready for what’s to come.”
  1870. >Never have you known a pony so capable of totally misreading a situation.
  1871. >Twilight and her brother are bashing at each other with their mugs… and… they’re… smiling?
  1872. >Well, maybe the stallion is right.
  1873. >Moonbeam certainly seems cheerful – that’s good.
  1874. >Poor mare is going to die from diabetes and/or fatal cake poisoning in the morning, but at least she enjoyed her last few hours on this world.
  1875. >And Sunny Smiles…
  1876. >Who gives a fuck about that cunt?
  1877. >Everypony else (that matters) seems happy, why not be happy yourself?
  1878. “Hell yeah, I’m ready to kick some npc ass!”
  1879. >Figuratively, of course – Abdul Goldberg would have trouble dealing with more than two or three pre-maimed kittens.
  1880. >”Good, good…” Dice Pool mutters, seating himself. “Well, we should be ready to begin again as soon as you finish… um…”
  1881. >He pauses, goggling at the sheer amount of cake on the table.
  1882. >”Or maybe as soon as enough of the table is cleared. Did – did you need help with that…?”
  1883. >Moonbeam growls protectively, like a starving wolf afraid a rival was about to steal its kill.
  1884. >”Don’t worry,” the stallion smirks, “I’m not going to try…”
  1885. >Shame – it looks like it’s *really* good cake.
  1886. >Though, come to think of it, did *any* of the DMs eat anything?
  1887. >Sure they did.
  1888. >They must have.
  1889. >You just suck at noticing unimportant things.
  1890. >Like other people. Or ponies. Whatever.
  1891. “Have your little chat with the princess?”
  1892. >”Yep!” the DM says cheerfully. “And we are. Good. To. Go!”
  1893. “What about Cheerilee’s group?”
  1894. >You gesture over your shoulder with your thumb.
  1895. “Don’t they need a new DM?”
  1896. >”Why…?”
  1897. >You look over your shoulder – perhaps actually aiming will let you point to the right empty sp –
  1898. >Oh, he’s back.
  1899. >The neckbeard stallion is back, and looking perfectly fine.
  1900. >Huh, either he’s more mature than you thought or Celestia is great at mind control magic.
  1901. >All things considered, the second option seems more likely.
  1902. “Well, nevermind, apparently he got better.”
  1903. >Weird, nopony recovers from a full-blown nerd-rage induced tantrum that fast – you stare at him intently, remembering what Twilight had told you about illusions.
  1904. >It wouldn’t be too surprising to find out that the DMs were all fake and Celestia was actually DMing each group.
  1905. >She might not be afraid of delegation like your princess, but she is still a control freak.
  1906. >But no matter how intently you look at the neckbeard, his image doesn’t waver, he doesn’t disappear.
  1907. >With a mental sigh, you turn back to your table.
  1908. >”Yeaaaah, he does that,” Dice Pool nods. “Breaks easily, but he always snaps back pretty fast.”
  1909. >He shrugs.
  1910. >You shrug.
  1911. >Everypony shrugs.
  1912. >”You really shouldn’t worry about the others,” the DM tells you with a shake of his head. “Not yet, anyway. I mean, who knows how they’ll take your message?”
  1913. >Probably pretty well. Who wouldn’t want free healing and gear?
  1914. >”The clerics and paladins banging on the gate of your estate certainly don’t seem all too happy about it.”
  1915. >Of course, those who already have such things might be opposed to someone challenging their monopoly.
  1916.  
  1917. >”IN THE NAME OF THE MOON, COME DOWN AND EXPLAIN YOURSELF, MERCHANT!”
  1918. >You really should have seen this coming.
  1919.  
  1920. “Everypony is here with me, right?”
  1921. >Dice Pool nods quickly.
  1922. >”Seems like you’d want to keep your bodyguards with you,” he says, looking out at the other players. “Did anypony go for a walk this morning?”
  1923. >”Of course not,” Sunny Smiles says angrily. “He still hasn’t paid us.”
  1924. >The DM facehoofs with a groan.
  1925. >”You mean you *didn’t* loot the armory yet?”
  1926. “How much time do we have before they break down the gates?”
  1927.  
  1928. >”Surely they don’t intend violence,” Gleaming Shield says harshly to you. “I’ll go out and talk to them to see what this is all about.”
  1929.  
  1930. >Shining Armor gives you a smug look.
  1931. >”That should buy you some time to gear up.”
  1932. “What about your character?”
  1933.  
  1934. >”What are you worried about?” the mare looks at you cautiously with squinted eyes. “Even if they do plan to string you up – and I wouldn’t blame them if they do – they wouldn’t attack another paladin.”
  1935. “If you hate me so much, why are you protecting me?”
  1936. >”It’s my duty,” the unicorn sighs, quickly trotting away before you can ask any other questions.
  1937. >You would have watched her leave, but Rock Thrower is tugging on your arm almost immediately.
  1938. >”Come on, boss! We gotta getcha inna some armor! One stray arrow and yer dead!”
  1939. >Very true – you’re wearing naught but thin robes.
  1940. >Not the most protective of garments.
  1941. >You quickly hurry after the Diamond Dog, Corn Cob and Fastball following behind swiftly.
  1942.  
  1943. >”How much time do we have?” Sunny Smiles asks the DM, reaching for the pages of Appendix A.
  1944. >You jerk them away from her outstretched hoof – she’s wearing some armor, after all, and it is *your* gear.
  1945. >Plus she’s a bitch.
  1946. >”Depends on how successful Gleaming Shield is at stalling them,” Dice Pool answers, inclining his head towards Shining Armor. “Also depends on just how far she’s willing to go and how long you’re willing to make her face the mob alone.”
  1947. >”Who cares?” the cosplayer barks, stretching for the papers again. “Why is she –“
  1948.  
  1949. >” – even here?” the mercenary asks, her rapid canter easily allow her to catch up. “Why the hell would you hire a *paladin*?”
  1950. >Rock Thrower is a long-time loyal follower of yours, these mercenaries are… well… mercenaries, but the paladin?
  1951. >Why *did* she respond to your job posting?
  1952. “She’s probably here to keep an eye on me – the Church has always been suspicious of my ‘good’ works.”
  1953. >”So *why* hire her?” Corn Cob asks insistently – you hadn’t answered her question, you realize.
  1954. “To let them. I thought they might not oppose me if they saw I’m not really a *bad* man.”
  1955. >You pause for a second to catch your breath – it has been far too long since such strenuous activity was the norm. Even Rock Thrower would be easily outpacing you, if she wasn’t actively dragging you along.
  1956.  
  1957. >”Did you really have to make Agility your dump stat?” Moonbeam complains with a scowl. “We won’t have much time to find what we need.”
  1958. >Dice Pool taps his chin thoughtfully at your companion’s comment.
  1959. >Never a good sign.
  1960. >”The mare has a point,” he says, drawing out the words painfully. “This *is* time-sensitive, so I’ll need an Int test from Goldberg and a Loyalty test from whatever NPC manages the armory for every item you try to find. Every failure means the item wasn’t where you expected to find it.”
  1961. >Dammit!
  1962. “Does that cost us more time, or just mean we can’t find it?”
  1963. >”Oooh, I *like* that…” he answers instantly.
  1964. >Dammit, you know better than to give the DM ideas!
  1965. >”But I’ll make it your choice – you can’t find it, but you can search for it again and hope you roll better.”
  1966. >Harsh, but fair.
  1967. “Start prepping your lists now, I guess.”
  1968. >You try to hand the papers to Sunny Smiles – she had been reaching for them pretty insistently – but the mare simply sets them aside.
  1969. >”I’m more curious about something else right now,” the pegasus says, leaning forward over the table. “What do you mean, Goldberg isn’t a ‘bad man?’ It says right there on his sheet – he’s evil.”
  1970.  
  1971. “I’ll admit to a certain amount of greed and selfishness – perhaps I am even ‘evil’, as such things are judged – but am I a bad person? If others do as I ask of them, then certainly not!”
  1972. >”And if they don’t?” Corn Cob asks, tilting her head to see you better.
  1973. “Then they have crossed me.”
  1974.  
  1975. >”Well, *that* certainly doesn’t sound ominous *at all*.”
  1976. “Well, Moonbeam, it shouldn’t be. Not unless you’re thinking about crossing me.”
  1977. >Sunny Smiles looks up from the papers she is going over and gives her sister a nudge.
  1978. >”Not yet,” the white mare says in a thoughtful tone, pointing out a few items on the pages to Moonbeam.
  1979.  
  1980. >”Maybe later,” Corn Cob finishes after several seconds, “but it’s not high on my list of priorities right now.”
  1981. >Rock Thrower slams open the heavy, iron-banded door and throws you inside.
  1982. >”Armor! Armor! Fast!”
  1983. “We don’t even know if those paladins will be hostile –“
  1984. >You know.
  1985. >They know.
  1986. >But better to play things safe than make an enemy of the Moon.
  1987. >After all, eighteen months ago, all of her old enemies disappeared overnight.
  1988. >It’d be a shame if that happened to you, because then all those orphans will have died for nothing.
  1989.  
  1990. >You raise an eyebrow at Moonbeam.
  1991. >”Sorry… don’t like me narrating your character’s backstory…?” she giggles nervously. “I can stop if you –“
  1992. “I just want to know how the FUCK you know about those orphans. Who squealed?”
  1993.  
  1994. >Not that they didn’t deserve it, what with being poor *and* having no parents.
  1995. >At your loyal companion’s urging you rush for a suit of magical armor –
  1996.  
  1997. >”That’s a pass and a…” Dice Pool stretches over his screen to read the second roll “… and a pass.”
  1998.  
  1999. >You hastily pull the arming doublet over your head – non-magical, but even magical chainmail can hurt like a bitch without it. A steel hauberk follows, and a few plates here and there.
  2000. >Fastball is looking around – his idleness catching your eye.
  2001. “I’m afraid I hadn’t anticipated any humans responding – I don’t have much of a selection of –“
  2002. >”No, it’s not that,” the –
  2003.  
  2004. >Dice Pool brow furrows and he sighs.
  2005. >”You’re playing a rogue/monk/seeker – what the heck are we supposed to call you?”
  2006. >”Um…”
  2007. >Moonbeam pulls her character sheet out from the pile of other pages.
  2008. >”Ninja…?” she answers, sort of. “Yeah, he’s a ninja and I just realized –”
  2009.  
  2010. > – the ninja sighs. “There’s nothing here I need.”
  2011. “Not even smoke bombs?”
  2012. >”Well, I was wrong!” He yells enthusiastically, throwing his arms into the air in celebration. “Point me in their direction!”
  2013. >At a gesture from you, the… ninja… sprints away, giggling like a deranged psychopath.
  2014. >…
  2015. >You’ve really got to start doing background checks on your new hires.
  2016.  
  2017. >”Okay, let’s not be greedy here,” Twilight tells the two sisters, even as she pours over a page to find gear for her character. “No armor for Diamond Dogs…?”
  2018. “You were *supposed* to be a unicorn, remember?”
  2019. >”Hey!”
  2020. >Shining Armor slams his hoof into the table.
  2021. >”Don’t blame my sister for *your* mistakes!”
  2022. “But, she – I – how – but – unicorn?”
  2023. >Maybe you overdid that a bit.
  2024. >Just a bit.
  2025. “How is this *my* fault!?”
  2026. >”Because you’re the villainous mastermind,” Shining Armor snorts. “You’re *supposed* to think of everything. What kind of bad guy are you?”
  2027. “Abdul Goldberg isn’t bad – he’s evil. There’s a difference!”
  2028. >The stallion magically jerks a page out of Moonbeam’s hooves and holds it up in front of your face.
  2029. >”Then could you please explain these High Boots of Canine Kicking +3?”
  2030. “They’re… really comfortable…? Also –“
  2031.  
  2032. “Rock Thrower? ROCK THROWER!?”
  2033. >”Yes, yes…?”
  2034. “Where did you hide THE MOTIVATORS?”
  2035.  
  2036. >”And I think that’s enough of paying attention to you assholes,” Dice Pool says with an overabundance of cheerfulness. “Shiny! Buddy! What would you think about seeing how things are going on your end?”
  2037. >”I’d think it’s about time,” the stallion answers, ignoring Sunny Smiles sputtered protests.
  2038. >”Goooooood. Do you want a map now, or only if things turn ugly?”
  2039. >Shining Armor looks at the table – still covered in crumb-strewn plates – and shrugs.
  2040. >”Now would be nice, but since that’s kind of IMPOSSIBLE –“
  2041. >Ow.
  2042. >Royal Canterlot Voice comes in men’s sizes, too.
  2043. >” – I’ll just have to go without.”
  2044. >With a sigh and roll of her eyes, Moonbeam begins piling the empty plates.
  2045. >”Just give me a minute.”
  2046. >Dice Pool doesn’t wait for her to finish, setting the stage as –
  2047.  
  2048. >Gleaming Shield trots quickly out the front door, leaving her “companions” to panic and scramble for equipment.
  2049. >The black wrought iron gate isn’t the only thing holding back the delegation – proper decorum and decency is working its magic as well.
  2050. >Where a true mob would be straining to smashing the gates open, the assembled clergy are standing stiffly – close to, but not pushing against, the metal bars.
  2051. >With a chuckle, the paladin notices the gates aren’t even locked – the others could have entered at any time if their intentions were truly violent.
  2052. >”Hail, my fellows,” the Gleaming Shield greets the delegation as she nears the gate. “What brings you to this place?”
  2053. >One of the other paladins – a gryphon – slams his clawed gauntlets into the gate.
  2054. >”What do you think, step-sister?” he sneers at her. “We serve the Moon, what purpose could possibly have brought us to this den of evil?”
  2055. >Gleaming Shield carefully examines the delegation –
  2056.  
  2057. >”Wait…” Shining Armor pauses, his hoof outstretched, just barely touching his d20. “I have to take a perception check to count the number of paladins and clerics, but not to notice that the gate is unlocked?”
  2058.  
  2059. > – four paladins and an equal number of warclerics, wearing the symbols of eight different temples – lesser temples, but still eight different temples that have taken a stance against Goldberg.
  2060. >”I have no doubt you have come seeking vengeance,” the unicorn says slowly, “but is it because he is evil, or because you fear his plans?”
  2061. >To their credit, they do not attempt to deceive the mare – no gasps of faked outrage, not sputtered denials. Not one threat of violence or shouted word at the slight upon their honor.
  2062. >Their hard stares promise more violence than any roar could.
  2063. >”Let us in, step-sister,” one of the warclerics says threateningly. “Your place is to protect, to shield – we know this and will not hold you accountable. Not everypony is deserving of the Sun’s mercy.”
  2064. >Gleaming Shield can hear the rasp of tightly-woven chainmail under pony’s midnight-blue robes as he steps forward.
  2065. >”Will you listen to what he has to say?” the mare asks, still trying to give peace a chance. “You’ve obviously heard the message he sent out – he may be an evil man, but this idea might not be.”
  2066. >”We will judge him fairly.”
  2067. >Gleaming Shield sighs in surrender, reaching out to cast open the gates.
  2068. >”I have just one more question,” she says quietly, her hoof hovering above the handle.
  2069. >”Yes, step-sister?” an Earth Pony paladin prompts, the strain in his voice betraying his waning patience.
  2070. >”Well, I was just wondering…” Gleaming Shield reaches forward, touching her hoof to the handle “… how many assassins slipped inside before you began hammering on the gate?”
  2071. >Again, the assembled paladins and warclerics do not protest.
  2072. >”Enough to put an end to this,” one of them finally answers. “Will you continue to bar our path?”
  2073. >”Yes.”
  2074. >Angrily, the gryphon reaches for the bars.
  2075. >”You cannot hold us back!” it screeches, grabbing hold of the gate –
  2076. > – and screeching again, this time in pain, as the wrought iron crackles with blue energy.
  2077. >”Perhaps not, but the Sun can,” Gleaming Shield answers smugly. “All except you – you had wings, you could have flown over.”
  2078. >Could have.
  2079. >But now, with his body spasming uncontrollably from the sudden shock, the gryphon cannot even stand, let alone fly.
  2080. >”I suppose you think you’re clever, filly,” one of the pony clerics growls, “but the church wins either way – do you really think those ragamuffins he hired can protect him? Our intervention is his only hope –“
  2081. >”And then he’ll owe you,” the mare sneers back. “Owe you for protecting him from the assassins you sent?”
  2082. >”It’s for the good of the Church!”
  2083. >Gleaming Shield rears up, placing both forehooves against the gate.
  2084. >”Your Church, not mine,” she tells them firmly. “Your ways, not mine.”
  2085. >The warclerics draw their weapons slowly – hammers and staves – even with the mare’s protective enchantments, the soft iron will not last long against a determined assault.
  2086. >”Are you really going to do this…?” Gleaming Shield asks.
  2087. >The paladins and warclerics exchange looks – not looking to each other for confirmation, but for signs of weakness or hesitation.
  2088. >The Moon abhors weakness.
  2089. >”The Sun will never understand,” one of the clerics mutters, raising his weapon to strike.
  2090. >”Neither will the Moon.”
  2091. >The wrought iron bends under the first blow.
  2092. >By the fourth, Gleaming Shield’s Sun-powered magic is the only thing holding it together.
  2093. >On the seventh, the hinges have been sheared off – the unicorn continues to hold it up on her own.
  2094. >”Carry on, step-brothers,” she grunts, putting her shoulder against the twisted bars. “I can do this all day.”
  2095. >”Perhaps you can,” a hammer-wielding cleric answers, checking his blow at the last second. “How does it feel, knowing your mercy will be the death of him?”
  2096. >To any other, the words would have struck with greater force than the hammer – but not to Gleaming Shield.
  2097. >No, not to her.
  2098. >”It won’t be.”
  2099. >The moment’s respite gives her time to shore up the magical barrier.
  2100. >Not much, but enough.
  2101. >Enough to hold.
  2102. >Not indefinitely.
  2103. >Not for long
  2104. >But for now.
  2105. >And that is enough.
  2106. >”How can you possibly think that?” the warcleric asks, raising his hammer for another blow even as he speaks.
  2107. >”Because I have faith.”
  2108. >”In that man?” he barks furiously. “In a *human*?”
  2109. >”No, never,” the unicorn answers. “I have faith in Her!”
  2110. >The hammer comes slamming down, tearing free a piece of welded scrollwork.
  2111. >”If you have faith in the Celestial Guardian, then you will move!” he shouts, swinging his hammer back to strike again. “This man *must* be brought to heel!”
  2112. >”If She agrees with you, why is my shield holding against eight?”
  2113. >He flinches at the words, throwing off his attack – it glances away, doing little damage.
  2114. >Why, indeed?
  2115. >”Where are your magics, step-brothers?” the mare demands. “Where is your moon-forged steel?”
  2116. >Their weapons lack the luster of those divine blades, almost as dull as the blackened iron of the gates.
  2117. >”Does your Moon agree with this course?”
  2118.  
  2119. >”Remember, this is basically win-win for them,” Moonbeam reminds the stallion. “Even if you hold the priests, the assassins –“
  2120. >”Who you know absolutely nothing about,” Dice Pool points out with that shit-eating grin that DMs specialize in.
  2121. >It’s basically their class-specific finishing move.
  2122. >Moonbeam gives him a death-stare – with no success.
  2123. >Dice Pool continues to draw breath, continues to grin.
  2124. >The mare sighs. Loudly.
  2125. >” – the assassins, WHO I KNOW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT, will probably kill Abdul. Might as well let them through.”
  2126. >Twilight shakes her head quickly, before Shining Armor can respond.
  2127. >”No – they’ve openly assaulted his home now – they can’t claim to be saving him now,” she explains. “They would have to eliminate Gleaming Shield if they wanted to get away with it – claim she was a traitor or something.”
  2128. >Sunny Smiles snorts at your princess.
  2129. >”Gee, now if only our characters had some kind of fucking magical technology that allowed them to talk,” she snarks, kicking a d20 over to Twilight. “We’ll just have to rely on Rock Thrower’s Paranoia, so I guess we’re fucked.”
  2130. >The tumbling dice bumps into your princess’s hoof, bouncing off and coming to a rest an inch or so away.
  2131. >”And her complete lack of empathy, I guess,” Twilight mutters, grabbing the dice and rolling it back and forth between her forehooves. “Plus half-a-dozen other mental issues.”
  2132. >She takes a deep breath.
  2133. >”Let’s hope this doesn’t set off her pyromania.”
  2134. “Wait, what?”
  2135. >The d20 is already spinning through the air.
  2136. >”Does Rock Thrower have a sudden urge to lock the door?” she asks to nopony in particular, watching the d20 as it comes crashing down, skittering across the table in leaps and bounds.
  2137.  
  2138. >”Something’s wrong, boss,” the Diamond Dog hisses suddenly. “I can feel it!”
  2139. “You *always* say that.”
  2140. >She always does.
  2141. >Last time, you ended up with a shredded newspaper and one of your slippers went missing. Never could prove they were related, but it seems likely.
  2142. >”Gotta be right eventually,” she counters shrilly, her massive paws fumbling in her pockets for the key. “What’ll it hurt to show a little caution?”
  2143. >Last time she said that, you ended up trapped in your office/saferoom for three days, thanks to a “malfunction” of her new automated door.
  2144. >Luckily, she had also stockpiled a week’s worth of food and water in there.
  2145. >Rock Thrower lopes quickly towards the front of the armory, key in hand.
  2146. >”Uh-oh!”
  2147. >Last time… that was three research assistants, their facility, quite a lot of money, and a very promising death ray.
  2148. >You really miss that death ray.
  2149. >The money, too.
  2150. >And of course, that facility cost quite a bit, and you *had* spent much to train those assistants.
  2151. >But mostly it’s the death ray.
  2152. >Won’t be easy finding another one of those green stones Rock Thrower used to power it.
  2153. >Half a city block exploded in a ball of green flame –
  2154.  
  2155. >”Yes, we get the point,” Shining Armor sighs. “You think my sister is an idiot.”
  2156. “I never said that!”
  2157. >”You didn’t need to,” he sneers at you, putting a foreleg around Twilight’s withers. “Why are you even interested in him, if this is the way he treats you!?”
  2158. >He gasps in pain – or more likely surprise – as Twilight plants both of her forehooves against his side, shoving herself free.
  2159. >Her eyes are narrowed in anger – to the point you wonder if she can even see.
  2160. >”What are you talking about?” your princess hisses at him. “Because *Anon* is talking about Rock Thrower, not me. I know you basically rolled up… well… *you* with a vagina, but not everypony thinks their characters are them!”
  2161. >Sunny clops her hooves together.
  2162. >”Fuckin A’!” the cosplayer cheers. “A player ain’t her fucking character, and a character ain’t her fucking player!”
  2163. >Like the paladins at the gate, Shining Armor has no comeback, no arguments – he just sits and stews in his own anger.
  2164. >As far as everypony else knows.
  2165. >Not his best shot at shit-stirring, but it got to ‘em all.
  2166. >Shiny’s a good actor.
  2167.  
  2168. “What’s wrong, Rock Thrower?”
  2169. >”Um… we shut-slammed this door behind us, right?”
  2170. “I don’t know.”
  2171. >In the rush to arm yourselves, probably not.
  2172. >Still you find yourself searching for the closest weapon – it doesn’t matter what it is, you’re equally skilled in all weapons.
  2173. >That is to say, totally inept.
  2174. >Your fingers brush against the wire-wrapped hilt of a nearby sword. Instantly, you rip it from its place, leaving the scabbard to fall empty to the floor.
  2175. “Corn Cob? Fastball? I think that is enough preparation. We should see to the paladin.”
  2176. >No sense panicking the mercenaries. They’re likely enough to turn on you as is.
  2177.  
  2178. “And by that, I mean Sunny Smiles is a cunt.”
  2179. >You incline your head towards the other pegasus and smile apologetically.
  2180. “You’re okay, Moonbeam, except you put up with her shit and that makes you just as guilty.”
  2181. >She raises an eyebrow.
  2182. >”Don’t blame me for her shit,” the mare protests. “*I* tried to kill her. What have *you* done?”
  2183. “That wasn’t just you two being in-character…?”
  2184. >The pair exchange glances, then smirk in your direction.
  2185. “Nevermind, I hate you both.”
  2186. >”Feeling’s mutual, cocksucker,” Sunny Smiles responds, miming – well – that’s best left unsaid. “You’re an asshole – why do we need to check on the paladin?”
  2187.  
  2188. >”Just let that self-righteous bitch die,” Corn Cob insists, still trotting through the rows of weaponry. “She can buy us time to escape.”
  2189. >And leave all your treasures behind?
  2190. >A coward would say you can’t spend money if you’re dead.
  2191. >You would say a life without money isn’t worth living.
  2192. >”Would you say the same if it was you we’d be abandoning?” Rock Thrower asks, loping your direction.
  2193. >Her head keeps jerking back and forth watchfully, as if she expects assassins to jump out from behind every barrel or weapon rack. She’s even armed herself, despite lacking even your talents – a small hatchet is clutched tightly in one paw.
  2194. >”Yeah, pretty much,” the mercenary answers throughout clenched teeth as she draws back the string of her crossbow with her mouth. “Actually, I’d say the same if we were going for tea. Let the paladin die.”
  2195. >Now that you think about it, that’s not a bad creed.
  2196. >Just not the right one for this situation.
  2197. “Funny, I didn’t think I had hired a jester. Why would I give the Church justification for whatever it is they are doing? Gleaming Shield’s death would be laid at *my* feet.”
  2198. >The mare scoffs quietly, sliding the loaded crossbow into the harness on her back.
  2199. >No sense keeping it out. It’s an awkward weapon for a pony to carry ready to use – if she has time to aim and fire, she’ll also have aim to pull it free.
  2200. >If not, her heavy steel hoofcaps will serve far better than pathetically attempting to bludgeon somepony to death with her wooden crossbow.
  2201. >If only it was made out of silver… but such a thing would be equally absurd.
  2202. >Corn Cob looks around carefully, Rock Thrower’s unease worrying the unicorn.
  2203. >”How could you be blamed for her death?” she asks, slowly moving closer towards you, though her eyes are dancing around, looking everywhere *but* at you. “Surely there’ll be witnesses.”
  2204. “And surely the priests had the sense to clear the streets before laying siege to my home.”
  2205. >It’s almost as if they heard you had been stockpiling weapons.
  2206.  
  2207. “Godsdamn, Dice Pool, are they going to try to burn me out?”
  2208. >”Oooooh, I like that!”
  2209. >You are an idiot.
  2210. >NEVER give the DM ideas.
  2211. “Why don’t you go back to Shiny for a bit – I need to stretch my legs.”
  2212. >He looks at you curiously.
  2213. “Sitting on the floor this long *really* isn’t all that comfortable.”
  2214. >”Ah, well…” he glances up, looking about the room, “… don’t take too long.”
  2215. “Just going to go get some more beer.”
  2216. >You jiggle the empty mug over the table.
  2217. >Twilight’s eyes light up.
  2218. >”And some for –?”
  2219. >You’re already picking up her mug.
  2220. “Of course, my little princess.”
  2221. >Sunny holds out her mug.
  2222. >”What the fuck about me?” she asks – no, *demands* – shoving the empty glass towards you.
  2223. “You can go fuck yourself.”
  2224. >She looks at you for a second, before slowly lowering the mug to the table.
  2225. >The mare gives you a filthy smirk.
  2226. >”Sure thing.”
  2227. >”YOU!” Dice Pool shouts, thrusting a forehoof in the cosplayer’s face. “HOOVES *ON* THE TABLE.”
  2228. >”All four of ‘em?” she laughs, giving the stallion a wink. “I don’t know what the fuck you have in mind, but I’m not into that fucking kinky bondage shit. But maybe my sister –“
  2229. >”FOREHOOVES ON THE TABLE. MOUTH SHUT.”
  2230. >You shake your head as you stand.
  2231. “I *really* should have –“
  2232. >”YOU!”
  2233. >Now the DM is shoving his hoof in your face. Trying, anyway – the two foot gap lessens the effect of his gesture somewhat.
  2234. >”GO GET YOUR BEER AND HURRY BACK.”
  2235. “Sure thing. Need me to get you anything? Some beer? Some sedatives?”
  2236. >He looks at you like you’re insane.
  2237. >Maybe you are.
  2238. >”All I want is for everypony to get along.”
  2239. >Maybe *he* is insane.
  2240.  “Anything for you, Shining Armor?”
  2241. >You kinda owe him – he *is* acting as your diversion.
  2242. >”Can you carry three…” the unicorn pauses, looking at your hands. “Right, of course. Beer me.”
  2243. >In a flash, you snatch up his mug and jog away – no, make that limp away. You weren’t lying – sitting on the floor that long really was quite uncomfortable. Maybe you’ll bring a pillow tomorrow.
  2244. >On your way, you look around the room, trying to see how the other groups are doing. Surprisingly, they’re all still playing – nopony has finished their second encounter yet.
  2245. >Not surprising that there’s a few empty stools – even Applejack is missing, though from Dash’s enthusiasm, your friends aren’t suffering for it.
  2246. >You wonder – is somepony else running Existential Dredd while AJ’s off on her potty break… or is the assassin staring at the wall with a blank face while everypony else runs around like crazy?
  2247. >Luckily, long years of intense laziness have trained your bladder well. It’s not like MMOs have a pause button.
  2248. >Celestia is absent as well, Spike taking her place at the table.
  2249. >Not quite sure what the lil’ guy is doing, but he certainly seems to be enjoying himself.
  2250. >From the vibe you’re getting from the room, the dragon earned it.
  2251. >The Manehattanites seem to be arguing about something, but the rest of the groups are all merrily hacking and slashing their way to fame and fortune. Even the Manehattanites are in good spirits – for Manehattanites.
  2252. >It’s nice that nearly everypony is having a good time – it’ll make things so much easier for your plan.
  2253. >What little of it there is.
  2254. >Build an army, play this as a wargame instead of rpg, retire Goldberg to the B&B version of Florida.
  2255. >Really not much of a plan at all.
  2256. >At least, it might be working…?
  2257. >Nopony is giving you ugly looks as you walk across the room.
  2258. >Maybe their characters haven’t gotten the messages yet?
  2259. >Or… maybe they were intercepted.
  2260. >No use worrying about that now.
  2261. >No use, yet you worry anyway.
  2262. >You’re on your way back to the table with three filled mugs before you know it.
  2263. >Seriously, you don’t remember filling them.
  2264. >”Done stalling?” Dice Pool asks as you hand the mugs off and seat yourself. “I kinda want to get to the good part before the night’s over.”
  2265. “Yeah, sure. What happened with Gleaming Shield?”
  2266. >Shining Armor shrugs.
  2267. >”Passed a couple of tests, cast a couple of spells, saved your worthless ass for a couple more turns.”
  2268. “Cool, cool. So where were we?”
  2269. >”Blathering about witnesses,” the DM reminds you, waving a forehoof in the air. “
  2270.  
  2271. ”No, Corn Cob, the only witnesses will be theirs.”
  2272. >A flash of reflected light catches your eye.
  2273. >Everything in here is polished and well maintained, but utilitarian.
  2274. >Magical, certainly.
  2275. >But nothing shines like moon-forged steel, and even a man of your means cannot secure such weapons easily.
  2276. >You hadn’t felt it worth the effort, you felt they would be a liability.
  2277. >You were right.
  2278. >There might have been doubt if such weapons were in your possession.
  2279. “They’re here.”
  2280. >”How many?” Corn Cob asks quietly, suddenly professional.
  2281. >Of course she is – it’s too late to run now.
  2282. >”You could always surrender…” Rock Thrower suggests, merely because somepony had to.
  2283. >The Diamond Dog doesn’t for a second believe that a viable option.
  2284. “I don’t know. Where’s Fastball?”
  2285. >The mare shakes her head briefly.
  2286. >Is she looking around trying to find the enemy… or is she looking for a way to escape?
  2287. >Flight might not be impossible – apparently Fastball managed.
  2288. “I don’t think they would accept my surrender. The Moon is not known for Her mercy.”
  2289.  
  2290. >Dice Pool holds up a hoof – you pause, waiting for him to finish reading the note Spike just delivered.
  2291. >”Huh, interesting.”
  2292. >He grabs a d20 and rolls several times before giving you a nod.
  2293. >”Okay, continue.”
  2294.  
  2295. >The three of you stop moving through the rows of weapons and armor and stand back to back – maybe this will give your group a *chance* to see them coming, whoever they are.
  2296. >It does.
  2297. >Out of the corner of your eye, you see the glint of moon-forged steel.
  2298. >It doesn’t do you any good, only giving you enough warning to jerk your head upwards.
  2299. >How did they get on the ceiling!?
  2300. >Before you can figure it out, before you can realize the mistake in exposing your neck, the blade you saw dives towards your neck at the same time a heavy weight slams into your back, throwing you to the ground.
  2301. >It is only by a miracle that your throat isn’t sliced open instantly by the short sword held just under your jaw.
  2302. >But for some reason, the pony – it’s definitely a pony, you can feel her hooves digging into your back as you lay face down on the floor – for some reason she doesn’t strike the killing blow.
  2303. >”The moon isn’t known for her mercy,” the assassin hisses in your ear, “but she has some. *Some*. I nearly saw one evil destroy this world – explain very carefully why I shouldn’t drop a moon on you as well.”
  2304. >The edge of her sword is a hair’s breadth from digging into your neck.
  2305. >Perhaps you could –
  2306. >What?
  2307. >What daring heroics can save your ass this time?
  2308. >Bleeding all over her pretty little blade?
  2309. >From your companion’s muffled shouts, they still live.
  2310. >Not that they will be of any use – you assume they’re pinned down, just like you.
  2311. >And Fastball has fled.
  2312.  
  2313. “Hey, Moony. Do you plan on participating in this at all?”
  2314. >Moonbeam shrugs.
  2315. >”Eh.”
  2316. >Moonbeam doesn’t really care about anything anymore.
  2317. >”Well, ain’t that just a heapin’ pile o’ enthusiasm?”
  2318. >Oh, hey.
  2319. >Applejack.
  2320. >Now you know where those players disappeared to.
  2321. >”Move on over, make room for us,” the mare says, gesturing with her hoof. “Ah reckon Twilight won’t mind none if you have to snuggle up to her.”
  2322. >Applejack doesn’t even bother to grab an empty stool from another table before she thumps herself down between you and Dice Pool.
  2323. >You barely move aside in time, jerking yourself to the right.
  2324. >Twilight squeaks as you bump into her, but she doesn’t slide over. Not even after a cautious glance to her brother.
  2325. >He seems more concerned about the two stallions nudging Moonbeam and Sunny Smiles aside.
  2326. >Huh.
  2327. >Shining Armor has seemed pretty cool with everything so far, but that’s still a little surprising.
  2328. >Unless…
  2329. >Is he cheating on Cadance!?
  2330. >Motherfucker is cheating on Cadance!
  2331. >Or… is it be herding…?
  2332. >Huh.
  2333. >A yellow hoof suddenly appears in front of your face – you’ll just file that sudden realization under Problems for Later – you’ve got some assassins to fuck up.
  2334. >”Heya, I’m Lemon Burst,” the newcomers introduces himself, his slight accent telling you he’s from Manehattan.
  2335. >You shake his hoof politely.
  2336. >Shocking, you know, but you *are* capable of such actions.
  2337. >”Storm Glory,” the other says, not offering his hoof. From his antagonistic glare, you’re not surprised.
  2338. >There’s that Manehattan spirit everypony has told you about.
  2339. >”Gonna break out the map now, DM?” the dark grey stallion asks.
  2340. >Dice Pool reaches for his supplies, but AJ holds out a hoof to stop him.
  2341. >”Nah, we don’t need that none,” your friend says, tilting her head towards you. “Anon’s gonna play nice, ain’t he?”
  2342.  
  2343. “What do you want, *assassin*?”
  2344. >You grunt as the mare shifts, one of her hooves digging painfully into your back.
  2345. >”I already told you what I want,” she whispers, her lips brushing the tip of your ear. “I want a reason to not kill you all right now.”
  2346. “Money?”
  2347. >You don’t even feel the blade cutting in to your flesh, it’s that sharp.
  2348. >It’s the thin trickle of blood down your chin that tips you off.
  2349. “Power…?”
  2350. >Ow.
  2351. >Not the right answer.
  2352. >*That* you felt.
  2353. >”One more chance,” the assassin tells you softly. “My mercy has limits, and my companions have none. It took much convincing to give you even a chance to speak. Don’t waste it.”
  2354. >It wouldn’t take much for her to end you – a stray movement on either of your parts is all it would take.
  2355. “Peace…?”
  2356. >”Are you offering to give up on your plan?”
  2357. >Thank the stars, she *talked* instead of resorting directly to stabbing.
  2358. “The opposite – I won’t give up. I’m a merchant –“
  2359. >”With quite an investment in the arms trade, apparently,” the assassin comments. “Wouldn’t war benefit you more?”
  2360. “War is an excellent opportunity to build wealth, but I’ve already done that.”
  2361. >The pressure on your back lessens slightly, though the blade doesn’t pull away, not even by a hair.
  2362. >”Then what is your motivation, merchant?”
  2363. >You can hear the scowl in her voice.
  2364. >”I doubt you have noble intentions.”
  2365. “I just want to keep what I have, but that doesn’t seem likely unless things change.”
  2366. >There is a moment of worrying silence.
  2367. >Should you speak more?
  2368. >Would it do any good?
  2369. >”Brothers…?”
  2370. >”I think you might be right, sister,” one of the other assassins answers. “We can always kill them later.”
  2371. >”Or we could kill them now,” another suggests. “We can always revive them later if we change our minds.”
  2372. >”No,” the first mysterious voice responds instantly, “we shall take them into custody like Eternal Dredd suggested.”
  2373. >”Very well,” the other sighs, “I hope –“
  2374.  
  2375. “Wait – Eternal Dredd? Did you change your character’s name again?”
  2376. >”Not as such, no…”
  2377. >Applejack’s head dips down, but you can still see the faint blush on her cheeks.
  2378. >”Just a lil’ nickname we came up with for her,” Lemon Burst blurts out excitedly. “Well, not we so much as – as –“
  2379. >”The princess,” Storm Glory amends. “When were taken away, there wasn’t really much to do so we asked your friend for some more info about how this all happened.”
  2380. >Makes sense, and quite in character. Of course the Moon’s orders would know the truth of those events.
  2381. >”She survived having the second moon fall on her!” the yellow stallion adds. “Your paladin may have done it, but *Dredd* survived it!”
  2382. >Because you made Pinkie hold on to those spells.
  2383. >Because you told her when to use them.
  2384. >Fuck.
  2385. >It’d be nice for Paladin to get a *little* of the glory for saving the world.
  2386. >And not the blame for ending it.
  2387. “And so Celestia gave her that new name?”
  2388. >”I think she was joking,” Storm Glory answers with a roll of his eyes.
  2389. >Lemon Burst’s exuberance is testing the grey stallion’s patience – it’s clear for everypony to see.
  2390. >Except for Lemon Burst, of course.
  2391. >”Princesses don’t make jokes,” he says, looking at his partner doubtfully. “She *really* meant it – Dredd can’t die!”
  2392. >”Well, thanks for the vote o’ confidence, but Ah’m pretty sure –“
  2393. >”No, didn’t you listen!” Lemon Burst protests. “Dredd can’t –“
  2394. >”Really want to test that?” Dice Pool asks, raising one eyebrow at the stallion. “Because I’ve got a hoofful of rocks right here that say everypony dies if we don’t get back on track.”
  2395.  
  2396. >The blade pulls away from your neck.
  2397. >”Hands behind your back, merchant.”
  2398. >You comply – the assassin’s sword may not be at your throat anymore, but you have no illusions that the threat is gone.
  2399. >To your surprise, your hands are roughly bound by coarse rope.
  2400. >Not the harsh treatment – that doesn’t surprise you at all – but you *had* expected manacles.
  2401. >”We weren’t sent to bring back prisoners,” your captor answers the question you hadn’t thought you had asked. “You’re lucky we brought rope.”
  2402. >”I *told* you it would come in handy,” one of the others gloats as you are jerked to your feet. “You doubted me, but –“
  2403.  
  2404. >”Yeah, Ah got it, Lemon Burst. You were right.”
  2405.  
  2406. >Rock Thrower is already on her feet with her hands tied. Apparently she hadn’t resisted either, though she begins to when she sees your shallow wound.
  2407. “Stop – it’s not bad.”
  2408. >You smile unconvincingly.
  2409. “Really, I’ve gotten worse from shaving.”
  2410. >It would be a shame if your minions got you all killed *now*, when things are going so well.
  2411. >Relatively.
  2412. >”Are you sure!?”
  2413. “Yes, we’ll be given fair treatment.”
  2414. >”But you said –“
  2415. >Dammit, why won’t she just play along?
  2416. >Neither is your other mercenary.
  2417. >Corn Cob is still pinned under her attacker, and while she’s not *actively* resisting, neither is she making it easy for him to hobble her.
  2418. >”Hold still,” her assailant hisses, dropping the rope to draw his knife. “At this rate, it would be easier to cut your tendons and *carry* you.”
  2419. >The knife comes stabbing down, piercing one of the mercenary’s chainmail leggings and pinning it to the wooden floor. Between that and the threat, he finds it *much* easer to bind the mare’s forelegs this time around.
  2420. >”What about her horn?” he asks, stomping on the spiral with enough force to twist the mare’s head. “Rope won’t do anything for that.”
  2421. >He shifts his weight, causing the mare to panic as he applies more and more pressure on her horn.
  2422. >But it’s too late to do anything – Corn Cob can barely move her forelegs. All she can do is thrash purposelessly with her hindlegs, knocking over a rack of swords.
  2423. >”What do you think…”
  2424. >He bends down, bringing his face close to Corn Cob’s, making sure she knows he’s talking to *her*, not the other assassins.
  2425. >”What do you think… should I snap it off?”
  2426. >”Doom Eater, you go too far!”
  2427. >The mare pushes the other – Doom Eater, you presume – knocking him off balance. And off of Corn Cob’s horn.
  2428. >He staggers away several steps, lips curling in a sneer.
  2429. >”We bring the Moon’s vengeance, not unnecessary suffering,” the mare reminds him angrily.
  2430. >He snorts angrily, but does not argue.
  2431. >The trio of assassins lead you outside, Eternal Dredd leading the way and Doom Eater bringing up the end. You can feel his eyes boring into your back, but at least it’s not a knife.
  2432. >The ringing of metal striking metal is the first thing you hear, before you even open the door.
  2433. >Good.
  2434. >That means Gleaming Shield is still alive.
  2435. >Who would have thought the paladin would serve better than Fastball?
  2436. >You had thought of her as a liability, but perhaps not.
  2437. >Of all your hirelings, only the one spying on you has put up a fight yet.
  2438. >The attacks slow, then stop as the delegation sees you walking towards them.
  2439. >”What is the meaning of this, Eternal One?” one of the warclerics asks.
  2440. >”The Moon shall hear him out,” the mare ahead of you answers. “Even if we cannot trust him to enact it, his ideas may have merit.”
  2441. >The warcleric tilts his head contemplatively, then gives the assassin a quick nod.
  2442. >”Once again, allowing you to take initiative proves wise,” he says, putting away his weapon. “We can always eliminate him after –“
  2443. >”After what?” Fastball asks from behind the delegation. He stands in the open, hands on his hips. “Hopefully you were going to say ‘after his employees get paid,’ because that’s my boss you’re talking about.”
  2444.  
  2445. “Finally decided to play?”
  2446. >”No, it just took you too long to get into position,” Moonbeam responds, waving over Spike and passing him a small scrap of paper. “And getting us a little leverage took longer than expected.”
  2447.  
  2448. >”We’ll double his offer to make you go away,” the warcleric says offhand, not even turning to face the mercenary.
  2449. >”Sorry, but I only work one job at a time,” Fastball answers.
  2450. >The cleric shrugs, pulling his hammer free again.
  2451. >”Then we shall just have to kill him –
  2452. >”Sorry, but it’s my job to protect Abdul,” the human responds, shaking his head sadly.
  2453. >One of the paladins looks around quickly.
  2454. >”Your employer and coworkers are trussed up,” he says. “We have you outnumbered significantly. Do you *really* favor those odds?”
  2455. >”Really?” a voice asks from beyond the mercenary. “We’re outnumbered? I only see eleven of them!”
  2456. >”Well, that’s what he *claims,” a harsher voice chimes in, “but I’m thinking counting might not be his strong suit.”
  2457. >Ten ponies advance on either side of your hireling – from the way Eternal Dredd stiffens, she must recognize some of them. Old foes, perhaps?
  2458. >Or are they old friends?
  2459. >”Would you bring the wrath of the Moon down upon you?” a paladin asks, stepping towards the newcomers. “It is *not* wise –“
  2460. >”I’ve survived it once,” a white-coated barbarian answers loudly. “I’m sure I can survive it again.”
  2461. >”Indeed,” a robed monk agrees, nodding sagely. “We fought our way through your fellows; do not make us fight again. My soul desires nothing but peace.”
  2462. >With grim faces, the paladins and warclerics turn to face the newcomers, presenting their weapons.
  2463. >They have no fear of turning their backs to Gleaming Shield. The mare is spent, her power – both physical and spiritual – all but drained by her solitary defense of the gate.
  2464. >”The *heretic* is in our custody, adventurers,” a cleric yells to the newcomers, “The threat has already been defeated – there is no reason for you to remain.”
  2465.  
  2466. >Heretic?
  2467. >”*Everypony* is a heretic, Anon,” Twilight whispers, having seen your confusion. “*Your game taught me that, remember?”
  2468.  
  2469. >A heavy blow strikes the back of your knees, driving you to the ground painfully. It’s all the warning you have before another silvered blade is at your neck yet again.
  2470. >“It’s too late for such things, cleric!” Doom Eater calls out from behind you. “We cannot pretend these ‘adventurers’ are anything but the servants of evil, seeking to free their master.”
  2471. >If you survive this, first thing that happens is you’re buying a gorget.
  2472.  >”Leave now,” the assassin shouts, “before I am forced to kill him.”
  2473. >One of the others might have come to your aid then – Eternal Dredd had seemed quite intent on taking you alive – except your hirelings choose this moment to begin struggling. Probably in an attempt to free themselves so they can try to overpower Doom Eater.
  2474. >The other assassins move to restrain Corn Cob and Rock Thrower, leaving their overzealous coworker free to murder you at his leisure.
  2475. >Damn.
  2476. >You appreciate the loyalty.
  2477. >Not as much as… say… a *rescue*, but it’s still appreciated.
  2478. >You’ll have to dock their pay, of course.
  2479. >Assuming everypony lives.
  2480. >”We would prefer to take him into custody, give the heretic a chance to confess his sins and die with a clean soul,” the maniac continues, ignoring his comrades’ battles, “but if I have to choose between letting this monster die unrepentant and letting him go free to corrupt the world, the answer is obvious.”
  2481. >With his free forehoof, Doom Eater jerks your head back, exposing your neck and leaving you staring into the sky.
  2482. >You begin to laugh.
  2483. “You *really* should let go and step away. Now.”
  2484. >”And why is that, heretic?” he hisses in your ear. “I’m not afraid of you. I’m not afraid of humans. All your wealth and power mean nothing in the eyes of –“
  2485. >Steel streaks by your face, narrowly missing you.
  2486. >Doom Eater isn’t so lucky, the diving gryphon almost tearing the assassin’s weaponleg from his body.
  2487.  
  2488. >”Monologing gives me an attack of opportunity, right!?” one of the gryphons yells from his table.
  2489. >”I’ll allow it if Dice Pool does,” the pegasus mare running that table says, nodding towards your DM. “What do you say?”
  2490. >Caught between the two tables, Spike freezes and looks down at the notes in his hands. With a sigh, he throws them into the air and shambles over to the refreshment table.
  2491. >”Fine, just scream at each other like children,” the dragon mutters as he passes you. “I’ll just go hit the juice. I know when I’m not needed.”
  2492. >You reach out to him, but Twilight beats you to it, wrapping a leg around Spike and giving him a hug.
  2493. >”You’re doing a great job, Spike.”
  2494. >”Gee, thanks Twilight!”
  2495. >He smiles briefly before slipping free.
  2496. >”I’m still gonna grab some juice, since tonight’s about over anyway.”
  2497. >Your princess reaches after him, almost unbalancing herself and tipping the stool – only a steadying hand from you saves her.
  2498. >”Seriously!?”
  2499. >Whoops, gotta get back in the game – you just missed something.
  2500. >Probably something important, since it came from Dice Pool.
  2501. >”Yeah, I’m cool with it,” Storm Glory says. “Just let me take an awareness test to see if I get a chance to dodge.”
  2502. >He looks over his shoulder to the gryphons.
  2503. >”That good with you?”
  2504. >You don’t know how those birds can grin when they have hard beaks for mouths, but he manages.
  2505. >”Shit, pony. Talking is a free action,” the gryphon admits. “I shouldn’t even get the attack.”
  2506. >Dice Pool looks stunned, like a deer in the headlights – or a deer that’s just been hit with a taser.
  2507. >”You look disappointed, fucker,” Sunny Smile says to your DM.
  2508. >She may be grinning, but something about her eyes looks… concerned.
  2509. >Afraid he’s going to overrule the players and let Doom Eater kill Abdul?
  2510. >You hadn’t thought the cosplayer would give a shit about anypony else, let alone their characters.
  2511. >No, it has to be something else.
  2512. >”Not disappointed,” the DM slowly answers, “quite… satisfied… actually. I hadn’t expected everypony to get along so well.”
  2513. >Storm Glory shrugs, turning back to your table.
  2514. >”I guess we all just love this game,” he says with a smile. “I’d rather not have Doom Eater be crippled on the first night, but that was a good moment. I’ll have to kill Goldberg later, instead.”
  2515. >He gives you an apologetic grin.
  2516. >”Sorry, but I just don’t think what you have in mind is the right way to do this,” Storm Glory says. “More importantly, Doom Eater doesn’t think it’s the right way.”
  2517. “Understandable.”
  2518. >You can respect that – he’s playing a hardline Assassin of the Moon. In Doom Eater’s eyes, your character is evil. There’s not really much wiggle room if he wants to stay true to his character.
  2519. >Frankly, it’s a miracle Applejack managed to keep him from killing Abdul immediately.
  2520. >”I’m afraid that’s enough of patting each other on the back.” Dice Pool is looking oddly content as he lays out the map and sets up some tokens. “As much as I enjoy watching everypony get along, we *do* have an encounter to finish up. Everypony brought their minis, right?”
  2521. >Crap.
  2522. “Hold on a sec, let’s see if that’s even necessary. Make your rolls, Stormy.”
  2523.  
  2524. >By pure luck, the assassin manages to dive aside. Not completely, but enough – blood flows freely as he spins away from you, the crimson liquid splattering your side. The assassin is on his hooves almost immediately, the injured leg curled up close to his body.
  2525. >”So you have set yourself on the road to damnation,” he hisses at the gryphon. “Too bad you’re alone –”
  2526. “You *really* need to start looking before you speak.”
  2527. >Four more gryphons fall from the sky, slamming into the trio of assassins with the force of a boulder hurled from a catapult.
  2528. >No, really, with *exactly* that amount of force.
  2529. >The calculations Rock Thrower shows you later – after you have been freed – are *very* specific.
  2530. >Bones must have been broken in the impact, but the three ponies don’t let the pain show.
  2531. >Instead, Doom Eater’s face is twisted in insane rage – unarmed and with a useless leg, he would surely have tried to take on all five of your rescuers.
  2532. >Except two of them have him pinned to the ground, their talons wrapped around his legs.
  2533. >Bizarrely, Eternal Dredd looks pleased, as if she’s relieved to have an excuse to let you live.
  2534. >Or maybe she’s just a masochist.
  2535. >The bladed talons of her assailant’s gauntlets have the assassin trapped – if she struggles, she’ll simply cut herself on the sharp claws wrapped around her forelegs.
  2536. >”I think you should leave,” the first gryphon says, leaning over Doom Eater threateningly. “Your injuries look severe. They need to be treated.”
  2537. >”I’ve had worse,” the assassin sneers back, spitting in the gryphon’s face. “This isn’t over until you are all dead!”
  2538. >”Are you sure…?” the gryphon asks, raising a gauntleted claw over the pony. “It looks life threatening…”
  2539. >”It’s only my l –“
  2540. >The talons slam down, digging deep into the assassin’s abdomen.
  2541. >”No, I’m pretty sure you need to get to a cleric immediately,” your rescuer laughs. “This looks serious.”
  2542. “What are you doing!?”
  2543. >You can barely hear yourself over the assassin’s scream.
  2544. >Apparently, they *can* feel pain.
  2545. >”Just providing extra incentive for the asshole to leave peacefully,” the gryphon answers, pulling out… something… with his claws and casting it aside dismissively.
  2546. “Peacefully!? You call disemboweling him *peaceful*!?”
  2547. >”He’ll live… *if* he gets healing soon.”
  2548. >Your rescuer wipes his bloody talons on the assassin’s cloak, what little of it isn’t already stained red.
  2549. >”Too bad none of *them* –“
  2550. >He jerks his head towards the paladins and warclerics.
  2551. >” – will have any healing abilities worth anything.”
  2552. >Dammit, your new allies are going to ruin *everything*.
  2553. >You’re not above making a few corpses to get what you want, but *this*?
  2554. >This is going to turn everypony against you.
  2555. >”You’d best get your friend to a temple,” the gryphon holding down Eternal Dredd laughs in her face.
  2556. >The assassin no longer looks pleased.
  2557. >Nor is she angry – not visibly, anyway.
  2558. >That expression is one of pure horror.
  2559. >The look of somepony who knows this is her fault.
  2560. >When her captor releases her, she doesn’t go for a weapon, like her other companion does – the gryphon guarding him is expecting that and easily disarms the stallion, pinning him yet again.
  2561. >No, she gallops straight for Doom Eater, leaving her moon-forged sword lying in the grass.
  2562. >The gryphons back off, leaving the injured pony for the mare to drag to safety.
  2563. >Only she doesn’t, instead pressing her forehooves against the injury.
  2564. >Doom Eater’s screams grow louder at her touch, if that was possible, but the mare continues to hold her hooves firmly against his shredded stomach.
  2565. >”It’s too deep,” the lead gryphon sneers at her pathetic attempt. “You’ll never be able to stop the ble –“
  2566. >Cold blue light glows from the assassin’s forehooves.
  2567. >”Please let this be enough,” she mutters, just loud enough for you to hear. “Please…”
  2568. >With a grunt, she shoves the blinding light into the injury.
  2569. >But the sun is up, not the moon.
  2570. >She’s an assassin, not a cleric.
  2571. >Hers is to kill, not to save.
  2572. >Fresh blood no longer runs freely down Doom Eater’s sides, but the torn flesh isn’t mended.
  2573. >Eternal Dredd has bought him time, nothing more.
  2574. “Gleaming Shield! Can you –“
  2575. >The paladin has collapsed under the iron gate – she’s conscious, but too spent to move.
  2576.  
  2577. “Wait, you were casting from hitpoints!?”
  2578. >Shining Armor gestures to his character sheet.
  2579. >”She’s only an eighth level paladin,” he says with a raised eyebrow. “How many spells did you think she had?”
  2580.  
  2581. >She can’t help you.
  2582. >The assassin, you mean. She can’t help the assassin.
  2583. >Dammit, if he dies…
  2584. >Gleaming Shield is helpless, if things turn ugly - *uglier* - she’ll be the first to follow him.
  2585. >This is turning into a clusterfuck.
  2586. >Not all of Fastball’s reinforcements are looking so sure of themselves now – the numbers could easily be against you if things come to a fight.
  2587. “Let them through.”
  2588. >One of the warclerics whirls to face you, even as the rest raise their weapons to repulse the adventurers.
  2589. >”And let your minions join forces so you –“
  2590. “One of them has to be a healer – they can save him!”
  2591. >”No,” the cleric answers. “Better that he die, than –“
  2592.  
  2593. >Storm Glory raises a hoof to get everypony’s attention.
  2594. >”Um… point of fact – I’d rather not have to roll up a new character.”
  2595. >His eyes go wide in sudden panic.
  2596. >”You *would* let me roll up a new character, right?” the stallion asks Dice Pool, then turns to look at Celestia, who has reappeared at her table at some point. “This isn’t one of those events where if my character dies, I’m out, is it?”
  2597. >The princess looks at him curiously for a second.
  2598. >”No, you can come back with a new character,” she answers after giving it some thought.
  2599. >The grey stallion sighs in relief.
  2600. >”Thank Celestia,” he says reflexively, his head jerking up when he realizes what he just said. “Um, I mean… Thank you.”
  2601. >The princess doesn’t respond beyond a slight upward curve of her mouth.
  2602. >Smug bitch.
  2603.  
  2604. “Strange that your ‘villain’ cares more about Doom Eater than you do.”
  2605. >The warcleric’s face twists into something barely resembling that of a mortal pony.
  2606. >”Better to die pure than to live corrupted,” he snarls, but he makes no move to charge you.
  2607. >It would be pointless, and he knows it – the five gryphons could easily hold them long enough the other adventurers to hit them from behind.
  2608. >His eyes dart towards your left, towards the third assassin.
  2609. >The one whose name you never learned.
  2610.  
  2611. >”Wild Light,” Lemon Burst blurts out, interrupting your DM. “I thought you’d looked at my character sheet?”
  2612. >”Thanks,” Dice Pool sighs. The DM facehoofs as the other stallion holds up the page. “I know that, you know that, Anon and Sunny and everypony else knows that, but their characters didn’t.”
  2613. >The yellow stallion’s mouth snaps shut.
  2614.  
  2615. >The paladins might not be able to reach you, but they would surely distract your rescuers.
  2616. >That assassin, WHATEVER HIS NAME IS, has already gone for a weapon once.
  2617. >If a fight breaks out, you’re dead. If not him, then Eternal Dredd will be the one to put a knife in you.
  2618. >Or Doom Eater – he can probably pull himself together long enough to stab an old man in the back.
  2619. >If you weren’t still bound, you might have a chance, but the gryphons seem more occupied with the assassins than actually caring about your wellbeing.
  2620. >That would be understandable if the ponies were actually fighting back, but not as they are. Only the gryphon holding that third assassin down is doing anything worthwhile – the rest are mocking Eternal Dredd’s attempts to save her ally.
  2621. >They’re making you look bad.
  2622. >They’re going to get you killed.
  2623. “Wait. I’ll go with you.”
  2624. >The cleric stares at you suspiciously.
  2625. “Just let them heal Doom Eater – surely one of those adventurers is a qualified cleric. If not, one of my hospitals is nearby –“
  2626. >”What are you up to, heretic?” the cleric hisses. “What makes you think you can use the life of our agent as a bargaining chip?”
  2627. “You’ve already made it clear I cannot – you don’t care if *any* of the assassins you sent to murder me live or die.”
  2628. >Even though she’s barely conscious, Gleaming Shield manages a laugh at that.
  2629. >”They were planning to kill them anyway,” she croaks, “to pretend to ‘save’ you.”
  2630. >The cleric raises his weapon to strike the mare, but prudence stays his hoof – the secret is out.
  2631. “Like I said, I’ll go with you. *Peacefully*.”
  2632. >You stress the last word, hoping your hirelings and their reinforcements take the hint.
  2633. >Once you’re securely in the Church’s hooves, any sign of a rescue attempt will surely mean your death.
  2634. “Your only hope of salvaging something from this mess is to put me on trial in the ecclesiastical court for heresy and crimes against the Celestial Guardian.”
  2635. >Hopefully this doesn’t get you shanked in prison.
  2636. >”And all you ask for coming along peacefully is that we let you heal that failure?” the cleric asks, nodding towards the still screaming Doom Eater.
  2637.  
  2638. >”Still?” Storm Glory asks, one eyebrow raised.
  2639. >Dice Pool smiles apologetically, holding out a book for the player to take.
  2640. >”Want to read the expanded critical chart again?” the DM asks. “It says ‘until the end of the encounter,’ not ‘until it gets annoying.’”
  2641. >”Do we *really* have to follow that?”
  2642. >”Yes.”
  2643. >”Why!?”
  2644. >”Because it’s funny.”
  2645.  
  2646. >Truth be told, you’re tempted to ask the gryphons to just kill the poor sod – his constant screaming is getting old – but their overly violent actions have already turned some opinions from your side.
  2647. >And who knows?
  2648. >You might get some loyal assassins out of this.
  2649. >Too bad he’s not a dragon.
  2650. “Healing him isn’t a condition of my surrender, it’s just common decency, priest. Shouldn’t you care about the wellbeing your flock? If so, then let him be healed. If not, then why would you care if he *is* healed?”
  2651. >The warcleric looks back at his comrades. He knows you’re up to something, he knows this is a trick of some kind – but it might be their only chance at some sort of victory.
  2652. >Just as it is yours.
  2653. >Oh, your death might make you a martyr for the cause – that actually wouldn’t be a bad idea, if organizing the adventurers was your goal.
  2654. >But it’s not – you want to live, and live well.
  2655. >One by one, the paladins and clerics signal their assent. Though weapons remain drawn, they are lowered.
  2656. >”Very well,” the cleric says, “we accept your surrender.”
  2657. >”What about our pay?” one of the gryphons hisses at your side. “We were promised items of power for our part in this!”
  2658. >You authorized Fastball to make no such promises, but you’ll let that slide.
  2659. “Then you’d best hope I’m found innocent. My fortune and all of my holdings will be forfeit to the Church if I am found guilty.”
  2660. >The gryphon frowns, but nods. Good, he understands your words clearly – if they want payment, they’ll have to campaign for your freedom.
  2661. >The group of attackers splits apart, giving a clear path through the mangled gate.
  2662. >”One of you, come through,” a paladin grunts, waving at the adventurers.
  2663. >A mare in heavy armor steps forward immediately, but is waved back.
  2664. >”Step back, sister,” the paladin says warily. “You should be at our side, not standing against us. You can’t be trusted.”
  2665. >Not by him, and not by you.
  2666. >Your assailants have already shown they’re willing to play dirty. You wouldn’t put anything beyond them right now.
  2667. >He points to a mare wearing the red and white of the Sun’s priestesses.
  2668. >”You.”
  2669. >The priestess quickly gallops through the gap to the assassin’s side, laying her hooves upon him in a blinding flash of warm light.
  2670. “Rock Thrower.”
  2671. >The Diamond Dog’s ears stand straight up as she hears her name.
  2672. “I trust you know what to do in my absence.”
  2673. >She nods quickly, even as a paladin drags you to your feet.
  2674. >Two columns form up on either side of you, the clerics and paladins cautiously keeping an eye on the gryphons as they prepare to march you away.
  2675. >You don’t speak to anypony else – there’s no point.
  2676. >Everything hinges on Rock Thrower now.
  2677. >No, wait… there’s one last thing that needs to be said.
  2678.  
  2679. >Twilight looks at you expectantly.
  2680.  
  2681. “Thank you, priestess.”
  2682.  
  2683. >Your marefriend punches your arm lightly.
  2684. >She must have been expecting Abdul to say something else.
  2685.  
  2686. >You don’t know if she heard you – she’s too busy trying to save Doom Eater’s life to respond – but that doesn’t matter. Those words weren’t for her. Not really.
  2687. >From Eternal Dredd’s shocked expression, you may have just won her over.
  2688. >Your captors don’t give you another chance to speak, herding you through the smashed ruin of your gates. The assembled adventurers part reluctantly, but they *do* part, giving the column enough room to march through their thin line.
  2689. “Thank you all.”
  2690.  
  2691. >”And that seems like a good place to wrap up for the night,” Celestia calls out before Dice Pool can respond to Abdul’s words.
  2692. >Damn.
  2693. >You look around – most of the other players have already packed up their books and supplies, including the ones involved in your event. It suddenly dawns on you just how late it is.
  2694. >There’s no clock in here, but you’d be very surprised if it isn’t after midnight.
  2695. >It certainly doesn’t feel that late, but you did spend most of the day sleeping.
  2696. >Even considering the time, it’s surprising that –
  2697. >”Awwwwwwww,” Ponks whines with a cute little pout, “I wanted to keep playing!”
  2698. >”You *also* wanted to go to that other thing,” Aredee reminds her. “You know, the one you don’t want to tell me about?”
  2699. >”Oh.”
  2700. >Pinkie’s eyes grow three sizes.
  2701. >”Right.”
  2702. >So does her smile.
  2703. >”Yes. TIME TO STOP. ANOTHER EXCELENT DECISION, PRINCESS.”
  2704. >And with that, the Ponka is out the door, leaving a trail of chaos behind her.
  2705. >You look to your princess, but she’s just as puzzled as you.
  2706. “Anypony have a clue what –“
  2707. >A stool flies over your head as Panks crashes back into the room, doubling the mayhem.
  2708. >”Aren’t you going, Trixie?” she asks, tilting her head and looking quizzically at the magician. “I thought you were going. Why aren’t you going!?”
  2709. >The unicorn waves her off.
  2710. >”Go without me.”
  2711. >”But… but…”
  2712. >Dammit, she’s pouting again. You didn’t do *anything*, but this is making you feel guilty.
  2713. >”Don’t be like that,” Trixie sighs, waving for Pinkie Pie to go. “I’ll be along soon.”
  2714. >”You’ll be LATE!”
  2715. >The unicorn laughs.
  2716. >Loudly.
  2717. >Confidently.
  2718. >Kinda bitchily.
  2719. >”The Great and Powerful Trixie is *never* late,” the mare bellows. “She always arrives precisely when she means to!”
  2720. >”Oh?” One of the Fillydelphians jumps up, still in the process of throwing on his saddlebags. “You’re going to that too?”
  2721. >Pinkie nods, but doesn’t dash off as the Fillydelphian passes by. She hesitates moment, unsure what to do. It takes another wave from Trixie before the mare races away.
  2722. >”Have fun, my little ponies,” Celestia calls after them.
  2723. >Bitch is smirking, like she’s proud of something.
  2724. >Of what? Being a condescending cunt?
  2725. >Other ponies follow slowly – or not so slowly, in the case of one grey mare.
  2726. >”TO THE PUB QUIZ, YA FUCKS!” Octavia roars, dragging along a flailing Cheerilee.
  2727. >Lyra trots by quickly, her eyes wide in horror.
  2728. >”Oh dear Celestia,” she murmurs as she passes you, “I’ve created a monster.”
  2729. >”I *noticed*!” the princess laughs, still sitting at her table.
  2730. >Your friend doesn’t notice, too caught up in her own little world.
  2731. >”I have to stop her.”
  2732. “Good luck.”
  2733. >The gryphons pass you in a group –
  2734. >What’s the proper term for a bunch of gryphons?
  2735. >Aredee told you once that it’s *not* a flock.
  2736. >From the bropunches and talk of competitive CCGs, it *might* just be a douche.
  2737. >A douche of gryphons.
  2738. >Sounds about right.
  2739. >You were surprised that Celestia was shutting down the event – you were surprised that the con shut down at night.
  2740. >But your initial thought was wrong – it’s even more popular at night.
  2741. >Tournaments? At night!?
  2742. >Outrageous.
  2743. >What you find the most disturbing, however, is that Sunny Smiles isn’t cantering off to some new and interesting place to be slutty.
  2744. >She looks… tired.
  2745. >”Ready to return to the palace, sister?” Moonbeam asks gently.
  2746. >The pair talk quietly as Shining Armor looks on with concern.
  2747. >Whatever that stallion is up to, you hope it doesn’t get him in trouble with Cadance.
  2748. >You *like* Cadance.
  2749. >You’re starting to like him, too.
  2750. “Hey, Twi…”
  2751. >It might be a good time to get the fuck out.
  2752. >Plausible deniability, and all that.
  2753. “Want to go hit up the vendor room? We never did get a chance to finish looking around.”
  2754. >”Maybe…”
  2755. >She looks around, like she’s trying to find something she misplaced.
  2756. >”Oh, right,” your marefriend groans, slapping her forehead with a hoof. “I threw the schedule away.”
  2757. >She sighs and stands.
  2758. >”I don’t *think* there was anything I wanted to go to overnight…”
  2759. “If you *really* wanted to go to anything, you would remember it.”
  2760. >Twilight grins.
  2761. >”Good enough reasoning for now.”
  2762. “So. Vendor room?”
  2763. >Your little princess shakes her head.
  2764. >”Not quite yet,” she says. “Could I have a moment to talk to Princess Celestia…?”
  2765. >Why not? Twilight just found out her two idols are the same pony – of course she wants to talk with her.
  2766. “Sure. I’ll just be… over…”
  2767. >You point in a random direction.
  2768. >Anywhere is better than being with Celestia.
  2769. >Besides, it looks like the pony you’re pointing to could use some cheering up.
  2770. >Trixie is hunched over, staring with unfocused eyes at nothing at all.
  2771. >Fluttershy is looking at her with concern, but currently being dragged away between Rarity and Applejack.
  2772. >The two are chattering happily about some demo on the second floor.
  2773. >Apparently, Fluttershy is going to *love* it.
  2774. >That leaves Trixie to you.
  2775. >You slide in beside her, sitting yourself down at her table – she barely looks up.
  2776. “What’s wrong, Trix?”
  2777. >”I’m just tired,” she sighs, coming back to life long enough to stuff another few dice into her saddlebags. “So tired. I *really* want to go back to the palace and get some sleep, but…”
  2778. “But Pinkie wants you to go to that thing?”
  2779. >Trixie nods slowly.
  2780. >”Besides, I can’t go back to the palace.”
  2781. “Why not?”
  2782. >”Because I’m sharing a room with Fluttershy.”
  2783. “So? Didn’t you two make up?”
  2784. >Your friend looks at you – actually looks *at* you, not just in your direction.
  2785. >She smiles sadly.
  2786. >So sadly it hurts.
  2787. >”She thinks we did.”
  2788. >What the hell does that mean…?
  2789. “What – what did you say to her?”
  2790. >”I told her what she wanted to hear,” Trixie sighs. “It’s what I do.”
  2791. “Lie?”
  2792. >”I’m an entertainer – the only thing I’m good for is telling ponies what they want to hear.”
  2793. >She looks… lost.
  2794. >Whatever it is Ponks ran off to, Trixie had wanted to go too.
  2795. >At least, that’s how it seemed on the train.
  2796. >You’re not going to forget that anytime soon – just thinking about it makes your arm tingle painfully.
  2797. >The room is almost empty now – even the DMs have started to clear out. Everypony has somewhere they want to be, something they want to do.
  2798. >Even Trixie.
  2799. >Yet all she does is sit, fiddling with something small – you can’t see what, exactly.
  2800. >She doesn’t resist as you reach over, plucking it from her hooves. She doesn’t try to hide it, doesn’t try to pull it away from you.
  2801. >Instead, she *flinches*.
  2802. >Like she’s afraid.
  2803. >Afraid of *you*.
  2804. >Why…?
  2805. “Did you paint this?”
  2806. >It was a miniature, the thing she had been playing with.
  2807. >A pegasus wearing heavy armor.
  2808. >She’s punishing herself, you realize.
  2809. >Trixie is sitting here, punishing herself by not going to whatever it is she wanted to go to.
  2810. >It’s stupid.
  2811. >Silly.
  2812. >Totally pointless.
  2813. >And yet, understandable.
  2814. >Everypony wallows in self-pity from time to time.
  2815. “Trixie, if you painted this, it’s really well done…”
  2816. >You hold the model up, looking at it from all sides.
  2817. >”What does *that* mean?”
  2818. “It means it’s a good paint job.”
  2819. >”For *me*,” she mutters, pointedly looking away from you.
  2820. >And the mini.
  2821. “Not what I meant, Trix. It’s one of the best paint jobs I’ve seen since coming here. Most ponies don’t bother with more than a base coat and a highlight or two, but you’ve actually done some nice blending on the robes. And this freehand –“
  2822. >Or is it freehoof?
  2823. >Meh, she knows what you meant.
  2824. “– are those supposed to be the phases of the moon around her gorget?”
  2825. >Easy enough to do, but it was a great idea.
  2826. >Really cements it as a cleric of the Moon.
  2827. >Oh.
  2828. “This was for Fluttershy, wasn’t it?”
  2829. >You shouldn’t have asked that.
  2830. >Even as the words come out of your mouth, you realize you really shouldn’t have asked that.
  2831. >Trixie hunches her shoulders – if she had wings, you suspect she would be using them to hide her face right now.
  2832. “Are you punishing yourself for not giving this to her?”
  2833. >The mare mumbles something, the words too garbled for you to decipher.
  2834. “What…?”
  2835. >”No.”
  2836. “Are you doing it because you lied to her, or because you’re lying to yourself?”
  2837. >”I’m not punishing myself,” she sobs quietly. “Why would you even think Trixie would do that?”
  2838. “Because of the model…”
  2839. >She raises her head, giving you a look…
  2840. >You don’t need words to interpret that.
  2841. >She thinks you’re an idiot.
  2842. >”I was holding it because it comforts me,” she sighs, reaching out for the model. “It’s something I take pride in – I’m an entertainer, not a painter. My cutie mark isn’t a brush. This isn’t my ‘special talent.’”
  2843. >The mocking tone of the last two words is almost painful to hear.
  2844. >”You’re right,” she admits quietly, “it *is* well done, and that’s something that actually *does* make me feel special. Because it’s all my own. It’s *mine*. It’s not something I was meant to do, not something I’m supposed to do, but something I *wanted* to do. And I did it.”
  2845. “Then why –“
  2846. >”Fluttershy thought somepony else had painted it,” Trixie sneers. “Because obviously I couldn’t – that’s not my special talent.”
  2847. >She stands abruptly and puts the last of her things into her bags, including the model.
  2848. >”I’m leaving now.”
  2849. “Going to go to your thing?”
  2850. >You never thought Trixie would need *more* pride, but apparently it works…
  2851. >”No, going back to the castle.”
  2852. “Why not go?”
  2853. >She sighs, closing her eyes.
  2854. >”Because what good is there in taunting myself with a world I’ll never see…?”
  2855. >Just what kind of event is it…?
  2856. >”I’ll never go to your world – it’s impossible.”
  2857. >She looks so lost. So very lost. And so very tired.
  2858. “Actually… Luna told me they’ve found a way home…”
  2859. >You might not want to go, but that doesn’t mean others couldn’t.
  2860. >You expect Trixie to smile, to look hopeful.
  2861. >To… do *something*.
  2862. >Something other than sigh and paw at the ground.
  2863. >But – again – you understand.
  2864. >She doesn’t dare hope, because hope is the first step on the road to disappointment.
  2865. >”If such a thing was possible,” she sighs again, “don’t you think somepony would know, that somepony would have figured out how you got here?”
  2866. >A hoof gently tugs at your shoulder.
  2867. >A purple hoof, with a golden shoe.
  2868. >”Anon, are you ready…?”
  2869. “Almost, Twilight. If you want to go ahead –“
  2870. >But Trixie is already walking away.
  2871. >She doesn’t look back. She doesn’t look up.
  2872. >Your friend plods along, deep in thought.
  2873. >You let her go.
  2874. >Some mares want to be chased – the need someone to rescue them, to prove they care about them.
  2875. >Others just need time to think.¬
  2876. >Trixie’s a proud pony – she might listen to other’s opinions, but when it comes time to make a decision?
  2877. >She trusts nopony’s judgment more than her own.
  2878. >Twilight watches quietly, her leg over your shoulder.
  2879. >Without warning, she pulls you closer, hugging you against her torso.
  2880. >“I’m worried about her,” your princess whispers. “Shouldn’t you –“
  2881. “Spend some time with you? Absolutely. We did have to cut things short earlier.”
  2882. >”But –“
  2883. “She’s not you, Twilight. She doesn’t need a hero to run after her and –”
  2884. >Fuck.
  2885. “Sorry, that’s not –“
  2886. >”I *know* that,” she hisses in your ear, giving you a rough shake. “You say a *lot* of stupid.”
  2887. >Good thing she loves stupid. She must – she loves you. Hell, it’s a little surprising she doesn’t have a thing for Dash.
  2888. >She doesn’t, right?
  2889. >You stop caring about that when your princess kisses your cheek.
  2890. >”Since you’re done here, let’s go.”
  2891. >She steps back, pulling her leg off your shoulder so you can stand.
  2892. “Where to? Wanna go back and see if Coco recognizes you now? Or catch up with the others?”
  2893. >Twilight shakes her head.
  2894. >”I know we spent most of the day sleeping, but…” she sighs, dipping her head to nuzzle your neck. “Get up. I’m ready to go back to the castle.”
  2895. >Oh, thank the stars.
  2896. >The sooner you get away from this place…
  2897. >… but…
  2898. >… is she not enjoying herself…?
  2899. >You were, aside from Trixie crying on your shoulder, having to share a room with THAT CUNT, and then THAT OTHER CUNT…
  2900. >Okay, it’s been kind of a shitty day, if you focus on the bad stuff.
  2901. >But other than that… you woke up with your marefriend in your arms.
  2902. >You had fun with your friends playing games.
  2903. >Your character WRECKED a setting so hard, Celestia revealed herself as Six Shooter.
  2904. >…
  2905. >Gods, maybe that’s why she wants to send you back.
  2906. >You’ll have to play Abdul carefully.
  2907. >”Hey!”
  2908. >Twilight gives you another shake.
  2909. >”Don’t zone out on me,” she chides softly. “Are you really *that* tired?”
  2910. “No. Just… thinking.”
  2911. >What if Celestia talked to Twilight about it? About sending you back?
  2912. >She can be persuasive.
  2913. >Would you stay if your princess wanted you to leave?
  2914. >”Thinking about what?” Twilight asks hesitantly. “About Trixie…?”
  2915. “No, about you.”
  2916. >”Good! Then let’s go!”
  2917. “Wait, what?”
  2918. >Twilight loops a leg around your arm, yanking on it energetically to get you to stand
  2919. “Where?”
  2920. >”To our room.”
  2921. “Oh…? Tired of the con already?”
  2922. >”No, but you said Rock Thrower would know what to do, but I don’t have a clue!” she explains. “We have plans to make!”
  2923. >With another tug, your marefriend pulls you back from the table just far enough to poke her nose in your face.
  2924. >“Seriously, stop zoning out, or I *will* start to worry you’re thinking about Trixie.”
  2925. “Just thinking about the game.”
  2926. >Her head tilts abruptly to the left.
  2927. >”Really.”
  2928. >It’s not a question – her tone is flatter than a ten-year-old Chinese girl.
  2929. >”Of all the lies you could tell me, you go with *that*? It’s not the game – you’ve *never* had to think this hard about a game.”
  2930. “Well, I’ve never had to worry my character would actually affect the world.”
  2931. >Twilight doesn’t just roll her eyes – her entire head moves with them.
  2932. >”Oh please, *every* character you play reshapes the world he’s in.”
  2933. “Maybe, but it’s never really mattered before. But now… with Abdul…”
  2934. >”So Paladin wasn’t important?” your princess asks incredulously. “How can you say that!?”
  2935. >You done fucked up now.
  2936. >”He reforged an entire setting!”
  2937. “All I was trying to do was beat your campaign for you –“
  2938. >”Why don’t you understand?”
  2939. >She nuzzle you again, rubbing her nose against yours.
  2940. >”Everything you do matters. Everything.”
  2941. “To you. And believe me, that makes me feel loved, but –“
  2942. >”To everypony. I’m not the only one in there trying to rebuild the setting, am I?”
  2943. >Fuck.
  2944. >She’s right.
  2945. >You were just dicking around with Abdul – planning to have some silly fun – but now you’ve screwed *everything* up.
  2946. >Now you really are worried about the game.
  2947. >You can’t take this flippantly anymore – it needs to have a happy ending.
  2948. >You promised Twilight that you would fix everything, and that includes the setting you broke, the setting she loved for so long.
  2949. >Why did Celestia have to go and make it canon!? Now your princess can’t just ignore Paladin as some addled nightmare. She can’t pretend that it didn’t happen. Others might – you know plenty of gamers who cheerfully ignore the fluff they don’t like. But your princess? Your Twilight Sparkle?
  2950. >She can’t.
  2951. >If it’s written in a book, she can’t.
  2952. >Is… is she giving you a chance? Is Celestia giving you one final chance to fix things before sending you away…?
  2953. >You cast a look towards the bitch’s table, but she has already left.
  2954. “Did you have a nice chat with the princess?”
  2955. >”Huh?”
  2956. >Twilight blinks, caught off guard by the sudden question.
  2957. >”I guess? She was a little…”
  2958. >Your marefriend looks around the room, but you two are the last left.
  2959. “A little…?”
  2960. >”A little weird.”
  2961. >You thought so, too.
  2962. >She was being far too kind.
  2963. >Perhaps… perhaps it’s time to stop worrying about being sent home and instead worry about how to best use the time you have left.
  2964. >Twilight can always visit the vendor room next con.
  2965. “Okay, Twi, let’s get back to our room.”
  2966. >Gods, you love that smile of hers.
  2967. >”Maybe if we hurry, we can catch up with Shiny!”
  2968. “Too bad I twisted my ankle – can’t do much more than hobble along at a snail’s pace…”
  2969. >He’s going to be with HER, and you’d rather avoid that.
  2970. >”Oh no!” your little princess gasps in horror. “When? How?”
  2971. >Shit, she took you seriously?
  2972. >”I better teleport us to Shiny! There is NO way I can carry you on my own!”
  2973. >Okay.
  2974. >*This* smile?
  2975. >Her shit-eating grin?
  2976. >You love that one slightly less.
  2977. >Slightly.
  2978. “Fine.”
  2979. >You run a hand down the back of her neck, your fingers threaded through her mane.
  2980. “You win.”
  2981. >Twilight chuckles as you finally let her pull you to your feet.
  2982. >Truth be told, it’s almost as much hindrance as it is help – standing, she *is* only slightly taller than you are sitting with your legs folded.
  2983. >Not that you mind – quite the opposite.
  2984. >It’s touching.
  2985. >Also, the touching.
  2986. >Kinda fifty-fifty there, but between the two it’s cute. Lovable. Loving.
  2987. >She rubs up against your hip once you’re on your feet.
  2988. >”You know, you’re going to have to get used to my family sooner or later. You can’t just avoid them.”
  2989. >Is that what she thinks? That you didn’t want to go back to the castle with her brother because you were avoiding *him*?
  2990. >“I know you and Shiny are off to a rocky start, but –”
  2991. “No, he’s pretty cool.”
  2992. >”Good,” your little princess says, smiling up at you. “I hope you two can become friends.”
  2993. >She gives you a nudge with her shoulder, herding you towards the door.
  2994. “You didn’t notice? It was an act to rile everypony up.”
  2995. >”Really…!?”
  2996. “Yeah. We thought you had figured it out.”
  2997. >Twilight shakes her head – not disagreeing, but in disbelief.
  2998. >”You’re an asshole.”
  2999. “You know you love it.”
  3000. >Another shake of her head.
  3001. >”Not at all. I just *coincidentally* love *you*.”
  3002. “I can accept that.”
  3003. >She gives you another bump.
  3004. >”Get moving. We’ve got work to do.”
  3005.  
  3006. >Despite your quick pace, you never manage to catch up with Shiny and the Slut Twins.
  3007. >You should find out if any of them play instruments, because that would be a decent band name.
  3008. >Anyway, they somehow elude you.
  3009. >Funny how that happens.
  3010. >You *hope* he went straight to the castle.
  3011. >He may be a bro, but fucker better not hurt Cadance.
  3012. >She’s not your little sister, but she’s… almost a friend? Well, she’s friendly, at least.
  3013. >You pass by row after row of guardsponies at the castle gate, and even more as you walk through the castle itself.
  3014. >Just like the staff at CanterCon, they barely give you a glance.
  3015. “Any idea where your brother is staying…?”
  3016. >Twilight looks at you oddly, just long enough to make things uncomfortable before sighing.
  3017. >”Two doors down from us. Should I tell you *again* in another three minutes?”
  3018. “That’d be great, because apparently I keep forgetting.”
  3019. >She sticks her tongue out at you – you respond with a bump from your hip.
  3020. “What about those… other two.”
  3021. >Damn, there’s that look again.
  3022. “Next door?”
  3023. >”Oh, good!” she yells with such false enthusiasm, you’d suspect she had some theater training. “I was beginning to wonder if you listened to me at all.”
  3024. “Well, actually –“
  3025. >”But I don’t know why, because obviously you didn’t.”
  3026. “So, they aren’t next door…?”
  3027. >”They are,” she smirks. “You just got lucky.”
  3028. >You pass the final set of worthless guards, stepping into the guest wing – you had expected it to be deserted, with everypony still at the con or elsewhere.
  3029. >It’s not – Shiny and Co. *did* make it back before you, but only barely. They’re all in costume, though you only catch a brief glimpse of Sunny Smiles and Moonbeam as the mares walk into their room.
  3030. >But they aren’t the only ponies – there’s a new face, too.
  3031. >”Did you have fun with *her*?” Cadance asks angrily, poking a hoof at her husband’s chest.
  3032. >”Aww, Candy, you know what I say,” Shining Armor laughs. “The darker the pone, the more I moan.”
  3033. >The princess facehoofs, giving off a moan of her own.
  3034. >”I can’t believe I’m saying this,” she groans, “but I *hope* you’re talking about your sister.”
  3035. “I’d really prefer he wasn’t.”
  3036. >The princess squeaks loudly, looking past Shining Armor to you and your blushing marefriend.
  3037. >The stallion turns quickly, then back to his wife.
  3038. >Then back to you.
  3039. >”No…?” he says hesitantly. “I was talking about Anon…?”
  3040. >”Oh, shut up and get in the room,” Cadance sighs, ruffling his mane. “You’re lucky you’re cute.”
  3041. >Shining Armor winks at you – gods, you hope it’s you and not Twilight – and ambles past the princess.
  3042. “I’m surprised to see you here, Cadance. I knew you were going to be in Canterlot, but…”
  3043. >With a wave of your arm, gesturing to… well… everything.
  3044. “… we’re all nerds here. Kinda assumed you and Shining Armor would be staying with his parents.”
  3045. >”Nope!” she answers smugly. “That would just be awkward. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to remind Shiny who his wife is.”
  3046. “Yeah, good idea. Sunny Smiles is pretty slutty – I can’t believe you’d let him associate with that kind of pony.”
  3047. >”What, her?” the princess laughs. “No, she’s harmless. Mostly harmless. Sometimes.”
  3048. >She looks back over her shoulder and grins.
  3049. >”I’ll see you two tomorrow. Remember, Twilight – breakfast.”
  3050. >Your marefriend is still too traumatized to respond, so you nod for her.
  3051. “Tomorrow, then.”
  3052. >With that, Cadance disappears into her room.
  3053. >You’re suddenly glad the cosplayers are next door – you *really* don’t want to know just how loud Shining Armor is.
  3054. >Twilight is already trotting past you, heading straight for your room, but you pause – the loud clatter of her metal hoof caps has gained an echo.
  3055. >An echo that is out of sync.
  3056. >”Anon?”
  3057. “One sec, Twilight. I’ll be right there.”
  3058. >You look back, over your shoulder.
  3059. “Just need to have a word with Luna first.”
  3060. >”O-okay…”
  3061. >She doesn’t question you further – she knows that tone.
  3062. >You feel a passing moment of guilt – and you’ll feel more later – but now isn’t the time for it.
  3063. >With one last look at you, she shuts the door, leaving you alone with second-best princess.
  3064. >”Princess Celestia informed us you wished to speak?” the mare asks, one eyebrow raised.
  3065. “Damn right I want to speak.”
  3066. >You turn your body to face her, crossing your arms across your floral shirt.
  3067. “Care to explain?”
  3068. >”About…?”
  3069. “You found a way for me to get home.”
  3070. >She looks at you curiously for a second before answering.
  3071. >”Yes, we believe we have.”
  3072. “And?”
  3073. >”And…?”
  3074. “Is Celestia going to cause problems?”
  3075. >The princess looks uncertain.
  3076. >”That is… possible,” she eventually answers, keeping her eyes locked on yours.
  3077. “Well, what do you think?”
  3078. >”I know how much you want to go back. It seems like it would be for the best –“
  3079. >You’re stunned.
  3080. >Her, too?
  3081. “And if I don’t want to?”
  3082. >”Why wouldn’t you?” Luna asks earnestly. “We thought it was what you wanted.”
  3083. >Maybe it was back when Celestia had you locked up all those months ago, and it’s not like the two of you have stayed in contact all this time.
  3084. >Still, you would have thought she’d know better.
  3085. >She *should* know better.
  3086. “I don’t know who you are, but it’s not Luna –”
  3087. >Her eyes narrow angrily and a hiss escapes her lips, but such petty intimidation tactics mean nothing to you.
  3088.  “ – not the Luna that rescued me from Celestia’s dungeon. You’ve changed, princess.”
  3089. >Her big sister was far more impressive.
  3090. >Still ineffective.
  3091. >”I’m not the only one,” Luna sneers at you. “Perhaps it was wrong of me to talk Celestia into setting you free.”
  3092. >She *has* changed – as wrathful now as Celestia was kind.
  3093. >Does… does her coat look a shade darker?
  3094. “It wouldn’t be the biggest of your mistakes, would it, Nightmare Moon?”
  3095. >Luna’s eyes flare open, the mare quickly taking several steps back.
  3096. >”What are you saying!?”
  3097. >Probably something very unfair – she just had your best interests in mind.
  3098. >But while you feel that you should feel guilty, you don’t. Not quite.
  3099. >Just enough to regret the words.
  3100. “Nothing. I’m saying nothing.”
  3101. >”You were saying *something*, human,” she hisses quietly, yet with all the intensity her body can manage.
  3102. “Just… you were a lot nicer when you visited my dreams.”
  3103. >”I… well, yes. It’s been stressfully, running Equestria with our sister absent,” Luna says, looking around carefully. “We have wasted far too much time here already. Farewell, Anonymous.”
  3104. >The princess spins away, her wings fluttering out slightly as their feathers catch the air.
  3105. “So, just to be sure – the dreams *were* real?”
  3106. >”Of course,” she huffs, looking back over her outstretched wing. “It is no secret we visited your dreams when our sister had you quarantined.”
  3107. >Quarantined – what a *polite* way to describe it.
  3108. >More diplomatic than you expected second-best princess to be.
  3109. “And after that? Have you recently?”
  3110. >”We are far too busy to coddle everypony,” Luna smirks. “While we find it slightly flattering to be the mare of your dreams, that is all it was. Now go to your Twilight Sparkle and leave us to our work.”
  3111. >Well, that’s a dismissal if you’ve ever heard one.
  3112. >Not a bad idea, though.
  3113. >You should spend time with your princess while you can.
  3114. “Fine. See you around, Moonbutt.”
  3115. >Her tail lashes, but the mare doesn’t respond.
  3116. >Huh.
  3117. >She’s changed.
  3118. >The old Luna never would have let you have the last word.
  3119. >Victory, for what little it counts.
  3120.  
  3121. >Twilight smiles happily as you enter the room.
  3122. >”Have a nice chat with Princess Luna?”
  3123. “Not really.”
  3124. >You throw yourself onto the bed beside your marefriend hard enough the mattress bounces her into the air.
  3125. “She was…”
  3126. >”Weird?” Twilight offers.
  3127. “Yeah. Weird.”
  3128. >Should you tell her…?
  3129. >No, you could easily be wrong. Maybe Luna is just stressed out.
  3130. >Shit, maybe she was just talking about the train to Ponyville – that mare *is* a little addled.
  3131. >”What did you have to talk to her about?”
  3132. >Fuckshitwhores.
  3133. “Oh, you know… things just seem weird.”
  3134. >”No, when we first arrived, you told Princess Celestia you had to talk to her sister. What’s going on?”
  3135. >She grabs for you when you try to stand, pulling you back into the bed.
  3136. “Hey! Can’t I at least get undressed?”
  3137. >”No!”
  3138. >She pauses.
  3139. >”Yes.”
  3140. >You would get started on that, yet it’s kind of impossible to do with all four of her legs wrapped around you.
  3141. >Kind of a little spoon trying to be the big spoon situation.
  3142. >”*After* you tell me what’s going on and we come up with a plan for the game!”
  3143. “I don’t know what’s going on.”
  3144. >You try to shrug.
  3145. “Was just hoping she might.”
  3146. >”Did she…?” Twilight asks cautiously, nuzzling your cheek.
  3147. “I’m pretty sure she knows less than me.”
  3148. >Twilight sighs in your ear.
  3149. >”Fine, next thing?”
  3150. “Plan for the game, right?”
  3151. >”Mhm! Need to grab some books…?”
  3152. “Nope.”
  3153. >”I *knew* you had something up your sleeve,” your princess purrs into your ear. “What’s this miracle plan?”
  3154. “Wing it. Save the day. Get paid.”
  3155. >”I *really* think –“
  3156. >Her legs squeeze tighter around you.
  3157. >” – that’s probably a great plan,” Twilight sighs contently. “You somehow always make it work.”
  3158. “So… I can get undressed now…?”
  3159. >”Yes.”
  3160. >Her grip slackens. Not by much, but that doesn’t matter – it’s more a signal than anything else.
  3161. >You could have broken free at any time.
  3162. >Well, you were physically capable. Whether or not you could actually bring yourself to do it… that’s another thing.
  3163. >Even now, you have a hard time finding a reason to pull yourself out of bed.
  3164. >It’s awkward being the not-so-little spoon, but not entirely uncomfortable.
  3165. >”Well?” Twilight whispers into your ear. “What are you waiting for?”
  3166. >She gives the back of your head a nudge with her muzzle.
  3167. >Time to give the mare what she wants.
  3168. >Twilight resists for a second as you start to rise – almost enough to make you think she’s changed her mind.
  3169. >But in the end, your princess lets you go.
  3170. >You sit up, throwing your legs over the edge of the bed – you initially try to yank the floral shirt off over your head, but Rarity tailored it too closely. Too perfectly.
  3171. >Dang shirt isn’t loose enough for that.
  3172. >With a sigh, you heave yourself up off the bed and begin undoing the buttons.
  3173. >Why do ponies even *have* buttons on shirts? How could they possibly manage these with their hooves?
  3174. >”Need help?”
  3175. >You half-turn – Twilight’s horn is glowing dimly.
  3176. >Oh, right. That’s how.
  3177. >You’ve already undone half the buttons, letting it hang open to reveal the white undershirt beneath.
  3178. >Twilight is lounging casually on the bed, her head propped up with one leg and a smile on her face.
  3179. “Enjoying the view?”
  3180. >You shake your hips in a…
  3181. >… okay, probably in a really stupid way…
  3182. >Definitely – your princess blushes, embarrassed for you.
  3183. >Her eyes meet yours for the briefest of moments before she yanks the blanket over her head, trying to block out the sight.
  3184. >Well, that was stupid.
  3185. “Sorry, didn’t mean to be so…”
  3186. >”Could you go get me some water?” she mumbles from under the blanket. “Please?”
  3187. “Um… sure.”
  3188. >From where…?
  3189. >There’s probably a kitchen or something somewhere in the castle. Somewhere.
  3190. >You can find it eventually.
  3191. >”Just go ask one of the guards.”
  3192. “And he’ll show me where the kitchen is?”
  3193. >Her giggle is muffled, but distinct.
  3194. >”No, silly! He’ll go get it for you.”
  3195. >But… shouldn’t a guard stand guard…?
  3196. >Against what, though? Everything in this marshmallow world that can threaten their charges can toss them around like ragdolls. Might as well use the guardponies as clanky armored buttlers.
  3197. >Not as cool as clanky ROBO-buttlers, but cool enough.
  3198. “I’ll… be right back…”
  3199. >But first you pull off your shirt – it’s nearly undone anyway, and white one underneath will serve.
  3200. >You pause at the door to repeat your last words to Twilight.
  3201. “Be right back.”
  3202. >You suppress a chuckle as Twilight burrows deeper under the covers.
  3203. >Silly pony.
  3204. >The door swings open easily, revealing an empty hall.
  3205. >Nopony else has returned, nor have any of the others emerged from their rooms.
  3206. >Thankfully, you don’t hear any noises from behind any of the closed doors.
  3207. >Male moaning would definitely have cost Shining Armor some bropoints.
  3208. >The guardsponies at the far end of the corridor don’t turn at your approach. If there’s one thing they do well – and that’s a stretch – it’s stand at attention while ignoring obvious threats.
  3209. >You *might* be overestimating your abilities, but probably not.
  3210. “Um. Hey.”
  3211. >One of the stallions swings his head around to examine you.
  3212. >”What?” he asks sullenly. “What do you want, human?”
  3213. >Not the reaction you were expecting.
  3214. “Tw – um – the princess wants some water.”
  3215. >”The princess, huh?” he grunts. “Well, which one? We got, like, fiddy of ‘em.”
  3216. >The guardpony rolls his eyes as his companion finally breaks, shaking his head frantically.
  3217. “And how many are down here?”
  3218. >You gesture behind you with your thumb.
  3219. >”Two.”
  3220. >The other pony is still shaking his head, but his eyes are now bulging.
  3221. >Huh, must be epileptic or something.
  3222. “It’s for the purple one.”
  3223. >”Good to know.”
  3224. >He doesn’t move.
  3225. >You’re beginning to think he doesn’t take you seriously.
  3226. “Are you going to get her something to drink or not?”
  3227. >“I-I will!” the other guardspony spurts.
  3228. >Must be a tough lil’ bastard if he can talk during a seizure.
  3229. >”Hold position, rookie! We’re guards, not maids.”
  3230. >Damn, the ONE pony in all of Celestia’s royal guard to actually have a personality.
  3231. >Too bad he’s an asshole.
  3232. “So, about that water…”
  3233. >”I’m too old for this shit,” the stallion grumbles, planting a hoof in his face. “Your suite has a kitchenette, human. Get it yourself.”
  3234. >Huh. Why didn’t Twilight know that?
  3235. “Of course. I just… thought you might be curious…?”
  3236. >“Uh-huh.”
  3237. >Well, that was embarrassing.
  3238. >You spin on your heel and walk back to the room you share with Twi.
  3239. >Staying out here isn’t going to do any good – but you’d rather not piss off Celestia by accidentally beating two of her guards to death with their own armor.
  3240. >”YOU CAN’T TALK TO THE PRINCESS’S HUSBAND LIKE THAT!”
  3241. >Well good for the special needs pony – he got over his seizure. Got his facts wrong, but you can forgive that.
  3242. >”Relax, kid – they ain’t married –”
  3243. >At least somepony has a clue.
  3244. >” – yet.”
  3245. >Somepony’s got some interesting expectations.
  3246. >”Damn human is still fair game for another couple of days, rookie. You should take advantage of it while you can.”
  3247. >Huh?
  3248. >“Do you know how much shit we gave Shining Armor before his wedding?” the veteran growls. “It’s tradition!”
  3249. >You would go back and ask what the hell he means, but 1) you don’t think he’d give you a straight answer and 2) it’s pretty obvious.
  3250. >The only real question is how he got such a wacky idea into his little soon-to-be-crushed skull.
  3251. >Just *wait* until Twilight hears this.
  3252. >Almost takes your mind off of wondering why Twi didn’t know about the kitchenette.
  3253. >Not really.
  3254. >She obviously just wanted you out of the room.
  3255. >You’ve seen enough nerdy romcoms to know how this is going to go – you go back in and she’s wearing a slave Leia costume. Not quite sure how that will work on a pony – at least, not the part below the neck.
  3256. >Collar and chain will work just fine.
  3257. >A little weird, but only because of what they are, not because they need to be adapted to a pony’s body.
  3258. >With this in mind, you open the door slowly and quietly, peeking through the widening gap to see if Twilight needs more time.
  3259. >Maybe she does – she’s still in bed, huddled under the covers.
  3260. >Nevermind.
  3261. >Apparently, Twilight hasn’t seen those movies.
  3262. >Praise the stars – that never was one of your fantasies.
  3263. “Twi?”
  3264. >The blanket rustles, a little purple nose poking under the edge.
  3265. >”Water?”
  3266. “No, the guard said we should have a kitchen in here or something…”
  3267. >There are only two doors in the room, not counting the one you just came through. Was the he wrong? One has got to be the bathroom and the other a closet –
  3268. >”Oh.”
  3269. >Why would there be a closet?
  3270. >Ponies don’t wear enough clothes to justify that.
  3271. >Dammit, you’re an idiot.”
  3272. >”Sorry,” your marefriend mumbles, “Forgot.”
  3273. “Still want some water?”
  3274. >The blanket bobs slightly.
  3275. >”Don’t want a hangover tomorrow.”
  3276. >Silly little pony – she didn’t drink that much. Twilight’s just being overcautious.
  3277. >Whatever this breakfast with Cadance is, it must be really important to her.
  3278. >You push open one door – nope not it. While you *could* get her some water, you’re going to check the other door.
  3279. >Yep, there it is – tiny little dining area and kitchen. Fully stocked with glassware and all the other necessities.
  3280. >Daaaaaaaayuuuuuuuum.
  3281. >This is better than your own kitchen – the one in the Anonshack. Whatever you expected, this wasn’t it.
  3282. >Whatever you expected, you forgot to take into account this is in the castle of the most tyrannical leader you’ve ever seen. It probably a minor miracle she didn’t gold-plate the walls. Or upholster the furniture with the hides of political prisoners.
  3283. >Better not trust any of the food.
  3284. >It’s probably poisoned.
  3285. >Water should be safe, though – she couldn’t tamper with the entire city’s water supply.
  3286. >Just to be safe, you let the tap run a while before filling a glass for Twily.
  3287. >And take a sip.
  3288. >Your princess shouldn’t suffer if that bitch did find a way.
  3289. >But since you don’t drop dead, it must be safe. Safe enough.
  3290. >Twilight’s hoof snakes out from under her fortress of solitude at your approach, wiggling around trying to find the glass she knows is there. Somewhere.
  3291. “Wait.”
  3292. >She freezes, allowing you to put the cup in her hoof.
  3293. >It disappears under the covers with a sound effect you haven’t heard since the last time you watched that old Batman show.
  3294. >ZWOOP!
  3295. >The sound of her velvet coat sliding against the silk sheets.
  3296. >The covers pitch and toss as she – presumably – drinks up the –
  3297. >Yep, an empty glass is thrust from her sanctuary.
  3298. >You reach down, plucking the cup from her hoof and setting it on the nightstand.
  3299. “Anything else?”
  3300. >There’s an awkward pause followed by more shuffling.
  3301. >”Finally undressed yet?”
  3302. “Not yet.”
  3303. >Didn’t she want to watch?
  3304. “Give me a second…”
  3305. >”No, nev - nevermind that. Just get under here,” she mumbles. “I’m cold.”
  3306. >That’s a lie – no, it’s a code. In marefriend talk – and praise the stars you’ve been with her long enough to understand what it really means: “Purple Smart needs cuddles badly.”
  3307. >Sleeping naked has been your norm for a while now, but it wasn’t always. You used to – in another world – have a female roommate. One you *weren’t* sleeping with. Going to bed semi-dressed was common sense if you didn’t want a beating from accidental exposure.
  3308. >Even so, you take the time to remove your cargo shorts. Sleeping with those baggy pockets full of stuff would be a painful lesson in futility.
  3309. “Okay, Twilight. I’m ready.”
  3310. >Just your way of giving her a little warning before you pull away the blanket.
  3311. >Ugh, she’s made a tangled mess of the sheets.
  3312. >You try your best to straighten them out as you climb in to bed, but not entirely successfully.
  3313. >Twilight has managed to untuck the sheets on her side, but it’s impossible to fix with how she has them wrapped around herself. Instead of trying to pull them free, you settle for casting the blanket over both of you.
  3314. >Swaddled as she is by the sheets, there’s no way for your marefriend to come closer, to mold her body to yours – you pull her closer, wrapping your arm around the sheets. At your touch, her head pops free of the cloth to nuzzle your chest.
  3315. >”It’s been a long day,” she grumbles, lifting her head so you can push a pillow under it.
  3316. >She doesn’t tell you that, but you know.
  3317. >Her happy sigh as she rests her head on her pillow confirms it.
  3318. >Damn, you’re a good boyfriend, able to read her cues like a book.
  3319. >Sometimes.
  3320. >Tonight, at least.
  3321. >You feel particularly proud about it.
  3322. >Don’t even have to wait for her to say or do anything before you squeeze her tightly to your chest – the fact that she’s not sleeping nose-to-nose with you says it all. Tonight, she gets cuddled.
  3323. >She does every night, but this time it’s all on you. Normally she’s more… involved, but tonight?
  3324. >No pulling your arm around her, no pushing her plot into your hips.
  3325. >You have to do that for her, hugging her to your torso on your own initiative, wrapping your leg around hers.
  3326. >Everypony needs a little comforting now and again, and tonight is Twi’s night.
  3327. >”Turn off the lights?” she murmurs into your shirt.
  3328. “Can’t. I’d have to let go.”
  3329. >She giggles and her horn does it for you, though the large windows let moonlight flood the room.
  3330. >It’s already descending – you only have a few hours until the sun rises.
  3331. >Twilight fidgets as you slide your other arm under her neck, running your fingers through her mane to cradle the back of her head. She twists slightly as you pull it close, but only slightly. Just enough to avoid mashing her muzzle into your torso. Not enough to prevent you from feeling her happy purring.
  3332. “Goodnight, my princess.”
  3333. >”Goodnight, Anon,” she whispers in response. “I love you.”
  3334. “And I love you, too.”
  3335. >You want to stay awake, to not lose a second of this feeling to wasteful sleep, but you can’t. Not forever.
  3336. >But you fight the good fight.
  3337. “I love you.”
  3338. >You whisper the words one last time as sleep finally drags your eyes shut. Your princess is already asleep – she can’t hear it, but that doesn’t matter.
  3339. “Always and forever.”
  3340. >And with that, you drift away into the world of dreams.
Twilight Sparkle Anon Mane 6 Traditional Games Romance /tg/ Complete Nerds Author Went Off The Rails NSFW

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