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The Long and Short of It (RGRE) Part 5

By SQA-non
Created: 16th July 2021 09:31:33 PM
15th February 2022 05:06:22 PM

  1. AKA A Guardsmare Of Half Height And Double Spirit Finds Love Twice As Tall And Thrice As Strong: A Reverse Gender Roles Equestria Story of Epic Proportions And Minuscule Stature
  2. Special thanks to Comfy, Uh-hmmm, Ephemeral, ScribblesAnon, APA, HotKinkajou, LaP, Rot, Editfag, QoC, Bobbles, and Shu for prereading/editing help.
  3. And and super special thanks to NigNogs for the top tier fan art, and de facto cover art, which can be viewed here: ponybooru.org/images/33009?q=artist%3Anignogs
  4.  
  5. >You are the groggy and somewhat annoyed Cut N. Paste.
  6. >Slowly prying your eyes open, you’re greeted by the sight of your clock proudly stating it’s four AM.
  7. >Aw mare!
  8. >You were /really/ hoping that wouldn’t be the case.
  9. >Dejected, you let yourself slump back into your pillow.
  10. >It's not all bad you guess, the dream that just got interrupted wasn’t exactly a good one.
  11. >Anon was just about to put on what he thought was Daring Do and the Temple of Baboons but was actually just another of your parents’ pornos.
  12. >...maybe waking up was a blessing.
  13. >Come to think of it, the DVD’s case was the one straight out of your traumatic foalhood memory of seeing yourself conceived.
  14. >Ugh, the thought of that makes you grimace.
  15. >Yeah, definitely a blessing.
  16. >Well, no reason to keep staying awake.
  17. >Might as well close your eyes and drift away...
  18. >... or at least you try to do that until some movement to your side snaps your eyes right back open.
  19. >Arg!
  20. >You barely suppress the annoyed whine building in your throat.
  21. >You shouldn’t be surprised, this occurs every few nights.
  22. >You’ve got to get used to sleeping with other ponies already!
  23. >If you keep waking up every time one of your partners shifts, you’ll never get an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
  24. >The longer you lay there though, the more apparent it becomes that whoever’s next to you isn’t just shifting.
  25. >Rolling over, you take a look at- oh sweet Celestia!
  26. >It's Anon, and something’s wrong!
  27. >He’s tossing and turning... guess you weren’t the only one having a nightmare.
  28. >You’ve got to do something!
  29. >But what!?
  30. >Uh uh uh!
  31. >No reason not to try the tried and true!
  32. >Timing it just right, you slide your hooves around him without getting whacked in the face and proceed to pull him into a tight hug.
  33. >At first you were worried it wasn’t going to work, but the longer you held him, the more he seemed to calm down.
  34. >Though he only truly stops squirming when you feel Pike wrap her hooves around him as well.
  35. >Leaning up to look over Anon and to her, you were curious to see if his restlessness woke her up too.
  36. >But no, apparently sleeping Pike was just hankering for some hugs.
  37. >Great timing!
  38. >Now with Anon thankfully settled, it's easy to just drift away...
  39.  
  40.  
  41. >When you next come to, the sun is shining through your window and the smell of breakfast is in the air!
  42. >Mmmmm, what a way to wake up!
  43. >Wait a minute, you can see the windows.
  44. >That’s right where Anon’s head should be!
  45. >If Anon’s gone, but there’s still a pony wrapped in your forelegs, then that means—
  46. >”Mmmm, squeeze me tighter, Anon~”
  47. “Pike?”
  48. >Pike’s eyes shoot open as she looks up at you.
  49. >”Cut!?”
  50. >She quickly forces her way out of your hooves, scrambling backwards in an attempt to put some distance between you and her.
  51. >Unfortunately she puts a little /too much/ distance between the two of you, and before you can warn her she’s fallen right off the side of the bed with an “EEEE!”
  52. “Pike!?”
  53. >She recovers almost immediately, her head popping back up over the side of the bed while she rubs a spot she likely just bumped on the way down.
  54. >”I’m fine, just uhhh, *ahem* forget I said that.”
  55. >You chuckle into your hoof as you nod.
  56. >It makes sense, after all, being held tight by your coltfriend isn’t very marely, but it sure feels nice...
  57. >”Wait,” says Pike with sudden concern, “if we’re both in here, then who's cooking?”
  58. >Oh no.
  59. >In an instant, both of you turn your ears toward the kitchen.
  60. >Holding for a few moments, you listen for anything out of the ordinary.
  61. “Well... I don’t hear the fire alarm.”
  62. >”Or any cursing,” adds Pike.
  63. >Taking a few experimental sniffs, you don’t smell anything burning either.
  64. “Maybe we’re just being too hard on him?”
  65. >Pike herself is looking... proud?
  66. >”I suppose he had to learn eventually.”
  67.  
  68.  
  69. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and you are beaming with pride.
  70. >After all this time, the lessons have finally paid off.
  71. “Anon, this is amazing!”
  72. >Arrayed before you is quite the breakfast spread.
  73. >Eggs, bacon, Prench toast, pancakes, even some sausage!
  74. >And Anon’s standing over it all, beaming at your praise.
  75. >”I figured I’d put all those lessons to good use and treat my favorite ladies!”
  76. >Cut pauses, midway through piling stuff on her plate.
  77. >>”Ladies? But we’re not royalty...”
  78. >You gently elbow Cut in the ribs and roll your eyes.
  79. >>”Oh! It's like a human thing! Uhhh, your efforts are appreciated, m’lord!”
  80. >Before your hoof has even made it to your face, Anon has started laughing.
  81. >”Hahaha, thanks for the /tip/, Cut.”
  82. >Cut’s face turns red at the implication.
  83. >>”H-hey! I’ll have you know, I’ve never owned a sun hat! Even though I may have wanted one... at one point...”
  84. >Oh no, Cuuuuut!
  85. >You shake your head at the mare, hoping she understands the profundity of her sin.
  86. >”Ha! Actually, now that I think about it, you’d look pretty cute in a wide-brimmed sun hat.”
  87. >Cut scrunches her face, and you do too.
  88. “Really?” you both ask in unison.
  89. >”What!?” he asks defensively, “think about it, she’d look great!”
  90. >Deciding you didn’t want to wait a moment longer, you begin cutting into your Prench toast.
  91. “Okay Mr. /Alien/, next you're going to tell me I’d look good in a fly mask!”
  92. >He stops for a moment, probably trying to picture just that.
  93. >”*Snirk* Okay, okay. You’ve made your point.”
  94. >After that, the conversation quiets as the three of you begin eating in earnest.
  95. >And you must say, you are impressed!
  96. >Nothing’s burned, things that would need seasoning are seasoned well. Even the sausage seems like it has a little something special added.
  97. >As you continue to eat though, you realize more and more that something is off.
  98. >Not with the food, but with Anon.
  99. >Every so often his eyes will pass over your and Cut’s plates, always lingering on one a little longer than the other.
  100. >Whenever this happens, his brow furrows and occasionally he’ll mutter something under his breath.
  101. >”/Is/ her’s bigger? No, no. Wait...”
  102. >You ignore it at first, but after the fifth or sixth time, it becomes apparent that you ought to ask him about it.
  103. >But before you can, his fork and knife fly over to Cut’s plate and he deftly slices off a small portion of her pancake.
  104. >Picking up the piece he cut, he immediately moves his fork and knife over to your plate.
  105. >However, right as they reach it, he turns the fork on a dime and slams the slice into his own mouth instead.
  106. >Which, after you notice he’s long since finished his pancake, brings all the pieces of the puzzle together.
  107. >He was just scouting which of you he should steal from!
  108. >Bah, typical stallion.
  109. “*Tsk tsk*, I thought you were above being a /thief/, Anon,” you chide.
  110. >A split second of something (relief?) flashes on his face before he falls into the expected smug defiance.
  111. >”/I/ made this food, so /I/ reserve the right to help myself if I want!”
  112.  
  113.  
  114. >You are Cut N. Paste, and you just observed something very odd.
  115. >It /almost/ looked like Anon was about to give Pike a piece of your pancake, but changed his mind last minute.
  116. >But why in Equestria would he do that?
  117. >That probably wasn’t what he was doing and you’re just overanalyzing it (as you’re one to do), but considering what happened a few days ago, you can’t help but be a little concerned.
  118. >Oh! That reminds you...
  119. “Hey, Anon?”
  120. >He turns to you.
  121. >”Hm?”
  122. “Is something bothering you?”
  123. >He doesn’t immediately answer, but he doesn’t avoid eye contact either.
  124. >”Why do you ask?”
  125. >Great, now you’re tempted to just wave it off.
  126. >You don’t want to make them worry about waking you up in the middle of the night.
  127. >It’s just a stupid you problem, nothing they should have to worry about.
  128. >But Anon did seem pretty distressed...
  129. >No, you should say something.
  130. “You seemed like you were having a pretty bad nightmare last night. You were tossing and turning.”
  131. >He becomes visibly concerned and he cuts you off.
  132. >”I didn’t wake you up did I?”
  133. >Oh no, now he’s worried about you!
  134. >This was supposed to be about him!
  135. “I-It’s fine! I’ve actually been waking up an awful lot! It’s just ‘cause I’m not used to, y-ya know..”
  136. >You’re unable to look Anon in the eye as your face burns with embarrassment.
  137. >You know they won’t judge you, but the shame of admitting it persists regardless.
  138. “Sleeping with other ponies in the same bed...”
  139. >>”Oh!” cries Pike.
  140. >Your head snaps over to look at her so fast that you miss Anon’s relieved sigh at the change in conversation.
  141. >>”I have just the thing for that!”
  142. >Hopping off her seat, she sails across the room over to one of the cabinets.
  143. >Much to your surprise, she physically climbs into the cabinet, and you immediately start hearing the sounds of her rummaging around.
  144. >After a few moments, you hear a muffled “Aha!” and she emerges with a tin in her mouth.
  145. >Sailing overhead, she drops it in front of you before gliding back into her seat.
  146. >Taking a look at what she dropped in front of you, you see it's a tea tin.
  147. >On the front of it is a Thestral sleeping snugly under a half moon with the name “Comfy Nightshade” written above it.
  148. >>”It's what we evening shifters use to adjust our sleeping schedules, should help you sleep through the night.”
  149. >Oh wow, this sounds like just what you needed!
  150. >Curiosity driving you, you flip over the tin to check the ingredients.
  151. >Poppy, valerian, passionflower, lavender, and... NIGHTSHADE!?
  152. >That last one nearly makes your eyes bug out of your head.
  153. >>”Yeah, I was just about to say that you should probably only steep it for half as long as it recommends. If you were a Thestral I’d say do the whole five minutes, but you won’t have the nightshade tolerance we do.”
  154. >You’ll probably start with even less than that if you’re being honest.
  155. >On the plus side though, if this doesn’t help you sleep through the night, nothing will!
  156. “Thanks, Pike!”
  157. >>”Of course,” she replies, “And let me know when you run out. Only a few mares in my detachment still use it, but we still get two dozen tins of the stuff every month. We’ve grown quite a stockpile.”
  158. >Phew, wow, that’s a load off your shoulders!
  159. >You’ll be able to sleep much easier no- hey wait a minute!
  160. >This has completely got off track.
  161. >Turning back to Anon, you decide to put your metaphorical hoof down.
  162. “Anon, you didn’t answer my question.”
  163. >”Oh?” he says to you with a start, “Ahh, yeah I guess I didn’t.”
  164. >Looking you right in the eyes, he answers.
  165. >”It was just a dumb nightmare, don’t worry about me, I’m fine.”
  166. >To any other pony, that would have been enough.
  167. >He spoke his words evenly and didn’t dodge your gaze.
  168. >Making it seem like on the surface, he’s completely fine.
  169. >But not to you.
  170. >As you look into his eyes, you see the eyes you’ve seen on yourself many times before.
  171. >The eyes of a pony who, despite what they may tell others or even themselves, is not fine.
  172.  
  173.  
  174. >You are still the concerned and mildly frustrated Cut N. Paste.
  175. >You kept pushing Anon at breakfast, but you could only ask “are you sure?” so many times before you felt like you were starting to sound like a lunatic.
  176. >So, much to your chagrin, you let the issue lie.
  177. >You’ve committed yourself to being on high alert though, watching Anon for any more signs of unwellness.
  178. >Unfortunately, you were so preoccupied with that that you neglected to grab your lunch out of the icebox when you and Anon left for work.
  179. >Obviously that meant you had to go back to your apartment on your lunch break in order to grab it.
  180. >Upon arriving there, however, you were pleasantly surprised to find Pike was home.
  181. >She appears to be in the middle of cooking something, although why she’s doing that instead of guarding the castle, you’ve got no idea.
  182. >You’re not going to complain though.
  183. >After all, this provides you with the perfect opportunity to get her input about this morning.
  184. >”Hey Cut,” she says the moment you step into the room.
  185. >She didn’t even need to turn around to know it was you!
  186. >Probably her Thestral hearing.
  187. >”Forget your lunch?”
  188. >Trotting over to the icebox, you pop the lip open to see your lunchbox right where you expected it to be.
  189. “Yeah...” you answer sheepishly.
  190. >Pike shrugs as she throws something into the mixing bowl she’s working with.
  191. >”It happens.”
  192. >Grabbing your box out of the box, you decide to indulge your curiosity and trot over to Pike in an attempt to see what she’s making.
  193. >As you get close though, she moves the bowl behind her in an attempt to conceal it.
  194. >Considering her size, it’d be pretty easy for you to just lean over her to look at it, but you decide to humor her.
  195. >”Ah ah ah!” she chides, “This is meant to be a surprise, for both you and Anon!”
  196. >You probably could have guessed, but the confirmation is nice regardless.
  197. >You let out a little “ooooh” and nod your head, which Pike takes as a sign she can resume her work without you peeking.
  198. >”We’re running night drills tonight so I had the afternoon off. I figured I’d leave you and Anon with a little something since you probably won’t see me ‘till tomorrow.”
  199. >Aw, how sweet of her!
  200. >To think your initial impression of her would be so far from the truth!
  201. >Speaking of Anon though...
  202. “By the way, did something seem /off/ about Anon this morning?”
  203. >She chuckles a bit, which makes your face burn.
  204. >She picks up on that and gives you a gentle punch to the shoulder.
  205. >”Oh don’t be like that. He said he was fine like, what, six or seven times? You’ve got to admit that /still/ being worried after that seems a little silly.”
  206. >You instinctively rub the spot where she bopped you.
  207. “I know, I know it’s just... I can’t shake the feeling. The way he looked at me, a-and the thing with the pancake I—”
  208. >”Cut, Cut, Cut,” she says, cutting you off.
  209. >Turning away from the bowl once more she reaches up her hoof to put it on your shoulder.
  210. >”Here is a prime opportunity for a lesson in mareliness.”
  211. >Oh?
  212. >Seeing no objection from you, she continues.
  213. >”When dealing with mares, you don’t need to analyse their every word and action. Unlike stallions, they’re upfront with their problems. Something all mares should be.”
  214. >Pulling her hoof off your shoulder, she gets back to work.
  215. “That’s a /huuuuge/ perk of dating Anon. He’s like a mare in many ways, including, if he has a problem he’s almost always upfront with it.”
  216. >What she’s saying makes sense, but you just can’t let go of that niggling feeling.
  217. >Feeling or not, however, she’s probably right.
  218. >Maybe you should just—
  219. >”But if you’re really certain something’s up, keep on keeping an eye out. And, if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll keep an eye out too. Don’t go searching for problems that aren’t necessarily there though.”
  220. >Phew, alright, /that/ actually does make you feel better.
  221. >If she’s looking for it too and still doesn’t see anything, then you can be sure you’re just overanalyzing.
  222. “Alright,” you say with a nod.
  223. >”Great! Now if you wouldn’t mind, could you pass me the baking chocolate? It's on the high shelf and... well...”
  224.  
  225.  
  226. >You are the dead tired Nocturnal Pike.
  227. >You consider yourself a mare of peak physicality, but even so, dragging yourself up the stairs right now is a challenge.
  228. >Luna, it must be five AM!
  229. >Ugh, no matter how perverse it feels, the fact is your sleeping schedule isn’t built for you to stay up so early.
  230. [spoiler]>Sorry, Princess.[/spoiler]
  231. >You can’t wait to get back to your bed and pass ou—
  232. >In an instant, the fatigue you were feeling is replaced by pure adrenaline.
  233. >You’re close to your apartment now, close enough that you can hear somepony shuffling about inside.
  234. >There’s no reason for Cut or Anon to be up at this hour, which leaves one very troubling possibility.
  235. >Taking flight, you silently drift over to the door of your apartment and prepare for the worst.
  236. >Silently turning the door handle, you’re surprised to find that the door’s still locked.
  237. >Maybe it is Cut or Anon then, but why in Equestria would one of them be up?
  238. >Oh, actually, now that you think about it, it's probably Cut.
  239. >Guess the tea wasn’t strong enough after only steeping it for two and a half minutes.
  240. >Letting yourself touch down and letting out a sigh of relief, you unlock the door and enter without fear.
  241. >Only to see the opposite pony you were expecting.
  242. “Anon!?”
  243. >Stars above what is he doing!?
  244. >He’s practically asleep on his hooves, his bleary eyed form shuffling like a zombie as he leans into a broom that was apparently the source of the sound you heard earlier.
  245. >The stallion’s so out of it that he doesn’t even immediately acknowledge that you addressed him!
  246. >His head drags itself up to look at you like it’s a bag of sand, and it takes several seconds of visible effort for his tired eyes to focus on you.
  247. >When he finally does though, a wave of relief washes over him.
  248. >”Oh tha- *Ahem* Welcome home, honey!”
  249. >Still in a state of minor shock, you walk over to him.
  250. “Anon, what are you still doing up!?”
  251. >He’s unable to answer, reduced to confusedly looking around the room for some sort of clue.
  252. >”I was... I was uhhhhh...”
  253. >Eventually though, his eyes fall upon the broom he’s leaned against.
  254. >”Oh! Right, I was sweeping! I thought the apartment was overdue for a sweep and just lost track of time! Silly old me!”
  255. >Oh Luna, Cut was absolutely right.
  256. >How did you not see this!?
  257. “Anon, what’s bothering you?”
  258. >”Wha- Nothing! I just got swept up in the fever of cleaning!”
  259. >Oh that is /such/ a lie.
  260. >Does he really think you’d fall for that?
  261. “You didn’t really think I’d belie—”
  262. >”Oh, speaking of time, it’s time for bed!”
  263. >Any further protests you had were immediately and totally eclipsed by what Anon does next.
  264. >He picks you up.
  265. “EEEEE! ANON YOU KNOW I HATE BEING MAREHANDLED PUT ME DOWN!”
  266. >The absolute RAT doesn’t even acknowledge you, simply carrying you off like you’re his /hoofbag/!
  267. >UNBELIEVABLE!
  268. >”*Yawn* I don’t know about you but I am beat! I think I’ll be out the moment my head hits the pillow!”
  269. >Violently thrashing around in his telekinetic grip, you can feel your frustration at being marehandled exponentially compound with your frustration at being unable to escape.
  270. “PUT ME DOWN THIS INSTANT!”
  271. >Surprisingly, your wish is granted.
  272. >No sooner had you shouted that than you’re suddenly flung through the air landing smack dab next to Cut on the bed.
  273. >Oh wow, she managed to sleep through all of that! Guess the tea did the trick.
  274. >Just as you manage to regain your bearings after quite literally being tossed, you feel Anon hop into bed on the other side of you.
  275. “Now Ano—”
  276. >But your futile interjection is cut off by something quite unmarely being forced out of you by Anon immediately hug sandwiching you between himself and Cut.
  277. “Eeep!”
  278. >Without missing a beat, he pecks you on the forehead and closes his eyes.
  279. >”Night, hon!”
  280. >You squirm hoping to worm your way out, but you’re thoroughly stuck between the two of them.
  281. “Come on, Anon!” you whine.
  282. >It quickly becomes apparent however, that he /actually/ fell asleep the moment his head hit the pillow.
  283. >Which, now that the cocktail of rage and adrenaline is departing your veins, you can sympathize with.
  284. >You yawn, further fading as the time of night and all that struggling rapidly catches up to you.
  285. >You /suppose/ that since he’s already asleep, you might as well put off bugging him until tomorrow.
  286. >Plus, he’s going to need the sleep.
  287. >Resigning yourself to procrastination, you settle in and drift away.
  288. >You know, you’ve got to admit, being smooshed between Anon and Cut is very, VERY comfy...
  289.  
  290.  
  291. >It is now the next morning, and you are the amazingly even more concerned Cut N. Paste.
  292. >When you tried to wake up Anon this morning, you found he was in the exact shape you would’ve expected Pike to be in.
  293. >Tired to the point of non-functionality.
  294. >You ended up needing to assert yourself just a bit, by insisting that he stay home from work and get some rest.
  295. >He briefly tried to fight it, but after nearly collapsing face first into his bowl of cereal, he acquiesced.
  296. >You ended up staying behind too, in order to watch over him.
  297. >You’re sure Aunt Jargon will understand.
  298. >Both he and Pike are sleeping peacefully right now (Pike said she planned to give her mares the day off after all), while you sit in the living room, sorting some of your Cyber decks.
  299. >Or you suppose they /were/ sleeping peacefully, considering you just heard somepony get out of bed.
  300. >Craning your neck over your shoulder, you catch Pike emerging from the bedroom, looking as concerned as you feel.
  301. >”He wasn’t up to going to work?”
  302. >You can’t help but notice she doesn’t sound surprised.
  303. “No,” you say as you shake your head, “Do you have any idea what happened?”
  304. >She sighs, and you can see a bit of shame creep into her typically confident expression.
  305. >”You were right is what happened.”
  306. >You were!?
  307. >Wow, you honestly kind of weren’t expecting to be proved right.
  308. >However, any relief you feel is obviously overshadowed by one simple fact.
  309. >You were right.
  310. “What did he do?”
  311. >Pike trots over to the couch, taking a seat next to you before answering.
  312. >”I think he was waiting for me.”
  313. >What, why?
  314. >He saw the cake and note that Pike left for the two of you, so he knew she wouldn’t be getting back until the wee hours of the morning.
  315. >Why the heck would he wait for her then?
  316. >Your mind runs through a multitude of possible reasons, but nothing you come up with is really satisfactory.
  317. “Why would he do that?”
  318. >Pike shrugs, a solemn look on her face.
  319. >”I don’t know. He tried to give me some horseapples about how he stayed up because ‘the apartment needed a sweep’.”
  320. >If you cocked your eyebrow any higher, you’re pretty sure it would fly off your face.
  321. “/Really?/”
  322. >Pike scoffs, clearly having felt similar incredulity.
  323. >”I know right?! Since when did he care about sweeping?”
  324. >While you talk, your mind is still searching for a possible explanation.
  325. “So you weren’t able to get the real answer out of him?”
  326. >She crosses her hooves, grumbling.
  327. >”I /tried/ to get him to spill it, but he picked me up! And he /knows/ how much I hate being marehandled!”
  328. >She looks over her shoulder at the bedroom door, letting out a sigh.
  329. >”I’m planning on pestering him about it again when he wakes up, but I get the feeling he’ll just wave it off again.”
  330. >She’s probably right, considering the last time you asked him if something was wrong.
  331. “What should we do then? Just try to puzzle out the problem and fix it ourselves?”
  332. >Pike slumps her shoulders.
  333. >”That could work, /if/ we can figure out what it is.”
  334. >Good point, that’s much easier said than done.
  335. >Scrunching your face in concentration, you try to figure out what it could be.
  336. >Nothing’s happened at work, and nothing’s really happened here either...
  337. >That is, except for his whimsey fit.
  338. “Hey Pike?”
  339. >She looks up from her own concentration towards you.
  340. >”Yeah?”
  341.  
  342.  
  343. >“You don’t think that the stuff that gave him his whimsy fit is still bothering him, do you?”
  344. >You, Nocturnal Pike, don’t think that’s it.
  345. >Back when you were young, whenever your Dad ever threw a fit about something, that was how your Mom pulled him out of it.
  346. >Some kind words and a big old hug!
  347. >But, Anon was pretty anxious about herding before, it's not impossible that some new anxiety has taken the place of the one you placated.
  348. “Hm, I don’t think that’s it, but I think you’re on the right track.”
  349. >The problem with that being, it means whatever’s eating him likely isn’t something you could fix without knowing the problem.
  350. >You tap one of your hooves in an attempt to work out some of your mounting frustration.
  351. >Aaarg!
  352. >Why won’t he just tell you!?
  353. >Maybe... maybe it's something he doesn’t want the two of you to worry about?
  354. >Which of course, is causing you to do the opposite.
  355. “If that’s the case though, we’ll just be playing a guessing game unless we can get him to tell us what it is.”
  356. >Cut ‘hmmmms’ in agreement, before her face lights up.
  357. >”I have an idea!”
  358. >You nod, signaling her to continue.
  359. >”If he’s still evasive when you ask him today, why don’t we try to catch him in the act?”
  360. >That’s actually a pretty great idea.
  361. >If /both/ of you confront him in the moment of doing something odd, he almost certainly won’t be able to worm his way out of that!
  362. “That just might work! Did you have something in mind?”
  363. >Cut beams under your praise, clearly extract to be positively contributing to the herd.
  364. >”W-well I figure, if last night wasn’t just a complete coincidence, Anon will probably stay up late again if one of us isn’t home, right?”
  365. “Makes sense.”
  366. >“So how about I stay late at work a few days from now and we see what he does?”
  367. >Putting your forehooves on Cut’s shoulders, you look her right in the eyes.
  368. “Cut... that’s genius.”
  369.  
  370.  
  371. >You are Cut N. Paste, and it looks like the plan will succeed.
  372. >Honestly, you were a little worried that finding a reason to stay at the office so late would be hard, but turns out you needed the time to catch up from that day you missed.
  373. >All it took then was finding the perfect day to spring your trap.
  374. >Which was today, a few days later, for two major reasons.
  375. >Firstly, so that he couldn’t use his late night as an excuse for staying up late.
  376. >And secondly, so that you and Pike could continue to observe him.
  377. >He’s never done something as outright unusual as staying up until five AM for no reason again, but occasionally you catch these small oddities.
  378. >For example, you've noticed that now he'll never hug just one of you, always both.
  379. >Whenever only one of you goes in for a hug, he'd hesitate, flinching until the other one joined in.
  380. >He never makes it obvious, but being on the look out for it allowed you to consistently see it.
  381. >This only served to embolden your shared quest for truth.
  382. >To which, judging by the fact that as you draw closer to the apartment door you can hear somepony moving around, you believe the resolution is close at hoof.
  383. >It's three-thirty AM, a time that even with your skewed sleep schedules it's odd to be awake at.
  384. >Stopping in front of the door, you take a deep breath.
  385. >Alright Cut, be ready.
  386. >Sure Pike will be there too, but if you can't assert yourself, you won’t be much help at all.
  387. >Deep breath in, deep breath out.
  388. >Anon may be your prince, but you need to do this for his own good.
  389. >Deep breath in, deep breath out.
  390. >Alright, ready!
  391. >Nerves sufficiently steeled, you face what’s on the other side of the front door head on!
  392. >’What’s on the other side’ being Anon, washing dishes.
  393. >He turns to you before you can call out to him, visibly relieved at the sight of you.
  394. >”Ahh, welcome home!”
  395. >Seeing no reason to waste time, you get right into it.
  396. “Thanks, Anon, but what are you still doing up?”
  397. >”Oh!” he says, glancing around nervously, “I was just doing some dishes!”
  398. >Trottin closer to him unintentionally gave you a closer look at those dishes he was doing.
  399. >A closer look that makes you realize: that’s the majority of the dishes in your cabinets.
  400. >He wasn’t just washing the dishes the three of you used today, he was washing /all of them/.
  401. >Steady your voice, Cut, speak with authority!
  402. “Okay seriously, what's bothering you?”
  403. >He attempts to scoff definitely, but it comes off as more of a resigned sigh.
  404. >”Come on, why do you and Pike keep asking me that? I'm fine.”
  405. >>”No you aren’t,” comes Pike’s voice from the bedroom.
  406. >She quickly emerges, taking a position next to you.
  407. >>”I just listened to you pull dishes out of the cupboard to wash for the past several hours. Now what’s wrong?”
  408. >Anon, finally seeing there’s no way out, slumps his shoulders.
  409. >”It’s just dumb,” he says under his breath.
  410. >>”Obviously not if it's bothering you this much.”
  411. >”But that’s the thing, it /shouldn’t/ be bothering this much,” comes the suddenly impassioned reply, “I mean, you both told me I didn’t need to worry about it and that you’d be there for me—”
  412.  
  413.  
  414. >”—but I just can’t get over that stupid feeling that I need to give you equal... everything! Unless I want the herd to fall apart.”
  415. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and you feel like the floor just fell out from under you.
  416. >Cut was right, again.
  417. >Those feelings that spawned his whimsey fit?
  418. >They were never really placated to begin with.
  419. >You failed.
  420. >”And I know its dumb, that’s why I didn’t want you two to worry about it.”
  421. >You feel like you’re about to keel over.
  422. >How could you not have noticed? How did you miss this?
  423. >You did what every mare would do in that situation, exactly what your Mom would have done!
  424. >What an alpha is supposed to do!
  425. [spoiler]>But that didn’t make it the right thing to do.[/spoiler]
  426. >>”Anon,” chimes in Cut’s sad voice, “You should have just told us.”
  427. >”But why?” he whines, exasperated, “It's not like either of you two can actually /do/ anything about it. It's just something I need to force myself to get over. All telling you is going to do is stress you out too.”
  428. >While you attempt to crush the mounting feeling of panic, Cut walks over to put a reassuring hoof on Anon’s back.
  429. >>”I thought the same thing about my sleeping problems, but Pike showed me that tea and now I’ve never slept better! You never know ponies until you ask.”
  430. >Oh Luna, she’s even doing a better job of comforting him right now!
  431. [spoiler]>This is what you get for allowing yourself to distance yourself from who you ought to be![/spoiler]
  432. [spoiler]>You’ve allowed yourself to fall from mareliness and look where it's gotten you! You’re a failure of an alpha![/spoiler]
  433. >You’ve got to do something, got to salvage this!
  434. >Herds look to their alpha for guidance, you’ve got to come up with something!
  435. >”I just don’t see what either of you could do.”
  436. “A SCHEDULE!” you blurt out, a little more desperately than you intended.
  437. >The two of them just look confused, unaware of your distress thanks to your mastery of your poker face.
  438. >”How so?”
  439. >Okay Pike, you’ve brought back, now get yourself under control!
  440. “*Ahem* What if we set aside certain days to focus on specific ponies? Like, say Tuesdays are Cut’s day. That day you set aside to do something with her, and another day you’ll set aside to do something specifically with me.”
  441. >>”Right right!” Cut chimes in, “And then we can have a third day we set aside for all three of us to always do something together.”
  442. >Phew, alright, you’re not a complete failure after all.
  443. >Your body wants to sag in relief, but you keep your posture rigid, commanding even.
  444. >”That... honestly might help.”
  445. >>”See?” she says to Anon before turning to you, “That’s why you’re the alpha, Pike. You always know what to do.”
  446. [spoiler]>For now.[/spoiler]
  447. >Quiet, thoughts!
  448. >This is about Anon!
  449. “Will it help enough that you won’t be staying up until three-thirty if one of us comes home late?”
  450. >He grimaces, which was not the reaction you were hoping for.
  451. >”I dunno, maybe?”
  452. >Looking down at his hooves, he sighs as he starts to shuffle them.
  453. >”I mean, it's not like I wanted to stay up so late, but that night Pike wasn’t home...”
  454. >As he recounts it, his expression grows more and more pained.
  455. >”...I kept having these thoughts. ‘Look at you, you piece of shit. About to sleep easy while Pike’s not even there. How’s she going to feel when she comes home and sees you snuggling against Cut and not her? Replaced is how she’ll feel’.”
  456. >That’s... rather dark.
  457. >No wonder he chose to sweep for hours and hours instead.
  458. >”That’s why I didn’t even bother trying to go to sleep tonight. I knew I’d be haunted until Cut got home, so I figured I might as well make use of that time.”
  459. >That fits with what you experienced
  460. >Earlier he said that he’d ‘join you shortly’ but he never joined you at all.
  461. >Lifting his head, but keeping it bowed, he addresses both you and Cut.
  462. >”And, again, I know that’s irrational, but it’s just that same thing that had me spazzing out a few days ago. I don't know how to make sure that I’m loving you both equally, or how to make sure you know I love you both equally. So instead my subconscious just obsesses over making everything equal.”
  463. >Finally rising to his full height, he looks out over both your heads.
  464. >”But this scheduled days idea... I think it’s a start.”
  465. >You and Cut need only share a look to know you both had the same idea for this exact moment.
  466. >Rushing him, the both of you wrap him in a big hug, one that draws a heaving sigh of relief out of him.
  467. >You know, you just had a great idea for a one liner.
  468. “I’m glad to hear that, Anon. But I think our real start should probably be going the buck to bed.”
  469.  
  470.  
  471. >While it sounded cool in the moment, and got a laugh out of both Cut and Anon, it wasn’t quite accurate.
  472. >Anon wanted to take a warm shower to calm his nerves, and Cut needed to brew her tea.
  473. >Which left you with a brief time to reflect, and think.
  474. >Sitting on the couch and staring at your hooves, you ponder your failure.
  475. >The sound of the shower directs your thoughts to Anon, your stallion.
  476. >You stallion who’s fears you inexcusably failed to calm.
  477. >Your mother always taught you the only thing that could erase a stallion’s whimsical fears, was the grasp of a strong mare.
  478. >Did you fail because you’re not truly a strong mare anymore?
  479. >Has your indulgence in this part of you, rendered you a failure!?
  480. >”Hey.”
  481. >Surprised, you look up from your hooves to see Cut, having left her vigil at the teapot to join your side.
  482. >Placing her hoof on your shoulder, you can tell she’s trying to channel that same energy she was earlier.
  483. >”So uh, what’s bothering you?”
  484. >Your first instinct is to tell her it's nothing and to wave her off, but you realize that’d be pretty stupid considering the night’s events.
  485. >Despite the cocktail of despair, you manage to keep your voice even.
  486. “I just can’t believe I failed.”
  487. >Cut looks deeply shocked, and somewhat offended, by your assertion.
  488. >”What do you mean you failed?”
  489. >You resist the urge to slam your hoof on the coffee table.
  490. ”I mean I failed, dang it! How didn’t I see it? How could I have been so wrong?!”
  491. >”That’s just it, you weren’t wrong.”
  492. >You give her a look of pure incredulity.
  493. >How were you not wrong!?
  494. >Cut, clearly reading the question on your face, continues.
  495. >”You said Anon acts like a mare, and you were right. Isn’t it all too common for mares to bottle up their emotions so as to not burden others?”
  496. >She... she’s completely right.
  497. >That was one of the lessons your Mom sought to hammer into your head, ever since you were a filly.
  498. >A marely mare keeps her emotions to herself.
  499. >”So I wouldn’t beat yourself up about it. Since after all...”
  500. >At this point, you're a little ashamed to admit it, you tuned her out.
  501. >Only because your mind found something far more troubling to focus on.
  502. >Your Mom always said stallions not adhering to that principle was a source of problems for all mares.
  503. >But here... Anon, a stallion, was adhering to that principal, but all it was doing was making him miserable and making you and Cut worry.
  504. >Does that mean...
  505. >Suddenly several memories surface in your mind.
  506. >When you were young, your parents used to fight a lot, especially after Dad had any sort of whimsy fit.
  507. >Your Mom always told you it was because your Dad was especially catty, and you took her at her word and didn’t think much of it.
  508. >Looking back on it now though, the parallels between those fights and your situation are uncanny.
  509. >Both you and your Mom presumed the situations resolved, only to find they weren’t at all.
  510. >Maybe the reason what you did with Anon didn’t work, had nothing to do with you not being marely enough.
  511. >Maybe the advice itself was just manure!
  512. >But if that was folly, and the lesson that mares should keep emotions to themselves didn’t actually make anything better, how much more of what your mom told you was bunk!?
  513. >How much more of this standard that you’ve based your life, your sense of self, even your leadership style around... was stupid!?
  514. >*Phwwwwwwwwwwwht!*
  515. >”Oh, that the teapot!”
  516. >The whistle of the teapot and Cut’s voice grabs you by the scruff of your neck and yanks you out of your spiral.
  517. >You feel bad that you missed the entirety of what she was saying, but at the same time, you feel like you’ve realized something important.
  518. >Something you should really keep thinking about, no matter how much you want to put it off.
  519. [spoiler]>Because that's just what you've been doing, bottling it up and putting it off.[/spoiler]
  520. [spoiler]>Is that really any different than Anon?[/spoiler]
  521. “Hey, can you pour me a cup too?”
  522.  
  523.  
  524.  
  525. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and the evening is late.
  526. >It was a fairly unassuming work day, which you gathered from Cut and Anon as well.
  527. >You are currently relaxing in the living room, basking in the heat provided by the building boiler as the wind whips outside and as Anon and Cut dive into tonight’s activity.
  528. >Which is, Cut teaching, or you suppose reteaching, Anon how to play Cyber: The Assembly.
  529. >Something you have absolutely no interest in participating in.
  530. >And you know what? That’s ok!
  531. >By the schedule the three of you worked out, tonight is Cut’s night, so she gets to pick the activity.
  532. >A schedule that you’re pleased to report seems to be helping Anon quite a bit.
  533. >Every so often you’ll still catch him looking at you while kissing Cut or vice versa, but he’s getting better about cutting back on weird things like that.
  534. >So even if you’re just going to be sitting here all evening watching them nerd out, you're content.
  535. >Plus watching the poor mare have to physically restrain herself from wiping the floor with him has been pretty funny.
  536. >”Aha!” she cries after seeing Anon’s latest move.
  537. >Reaching into her hoof, she dramatically pulls out a card and moves to play it on the table.
  538. >”In that case, I tap all of my factories and play—!”
  539. >Only to stop herself moments before she actually puts the card on the table.
  540. >”Actually on second thought haha, I’m just going to attack with my Terminator!”
  541. >You can /feel/ Anon roll his eyes as she awkwardly slides the card back into her hoof.
  542. >>”Play the card, Cut.”
  543. >”No-no, that’s okay! I’ll just... not do that.”
  544. >It's obvious she’s trying to give Anon an out, but Anon’s will is unwavering.
  545. >”I told you not to hold back on me. Play. The. Card.”
  546. >She sighs, pulling the same card out of her hoof again.
  547. >This time when she places it, she does so with resignation rather than triumph.
  548. >”I play Seamless Merger and win the game.”
  549. >A beat of silence passes through the room as you and Anon process what she just said.
  550. >Needless to say, the twin reactions are night and day.
  551. >”WHAT!?”
  552. “Hahahahahaha!”
  553. >Doubled over in a deep belly laugh, you nearly fall off the couch.
  554. “Well, Anon, hahahahahaaaa, you told her not to hold back!”
  555. >Picking his jaw off the floor, he snatches the card off the table.
  556. >>”Let me see that!”
  557. >You can feel the tears of mirth in your eyes as he pulls the card up to his face to scrutinize it.
  558. >>”You win the game if you control a factory of each basic type and a construct of each color,” he reads aloud.
  559. >Peeking over the card, he takes stock of Cut’s side of the table.
  560. >>”Let’s see, white, black, red, blue... Aha! You’re missing a gre- wait no, you’ve got a green. Dang!”
  561. >Tossing the card back onto the table, he crosses his forehooves with a harrumph.
  562. >”That is one /mean/ card. How would I have even beaten that?”
  563. >Reaching across the board, Cut taps her hoof on one of Anon’s cards.
  564. >”Well this one has provoke. So, you could have provoked my A-mare-zon Delivery Truck for an easy kill, and then I wouldn’t have had a green construct. Destroying it would have even given your card two +1/1s!”
  565. >Anon, keeping his arms crossed, leans over to inspect the card himself.
  566. >You can tell it's exactly as she says though, because as soon as he gets an eyeful of the card, he drops his hooves back to his side.
  567. >Realizing he truly got outplayed, he sighs with a smile on his face.
  568. >>”Well darn, I completely forgot about that.”
  569. >Now it's his turn to chuckle, just as your giggles were starting to subside.
  570. >>”Haha, maaaaan, I suck.”
  571. >Turning toward you, he gently pushes you back from the edge of the couch.
  572. “Sure you don’t want to play with us, Pike? It’d be nice to have somepony else to take some of the heat.”
  573. >Laughter subsiding, you’re finally able to once again sit up straight.
  574. >As you do, you decide to humor him, and you reach out over the table to grab the now infamous card for yourself.
  575. >Your eye is immediately drawn to the artwork at the top: three badass robots hoisting the flag of victory.
  576. >Sweet.
  577. >If that’s what this game is about, maybe you /could/ get into it.
  578. >But just as you were starting to be convinced, you notice the large text box below it.
  579. >Words, words, words, rules, rules, rules, blah, blah, blah.
  580. >Yeah, nah.
  581. “No thanks, this is a little /too/ much nerd for my blood.”
  582. >Tossing the card back over to Cut, she deftly catches it and seamlessly slides it back into the deck she’s shuffling.
  583. >Oooo, very nice!
  584. “The art’s pretty cool though.”
  585. >Anon chuckles at your assertion, before hopping off the couch and trotting over to the box where Cut keeps the rest of her decks.
  586. >>”Alright, Cut...”
  587.  
  588.  
  589. “...What deck should I pick if I want to win?”
  590. >You are Anonymous the unicorn, and you remember Magic a lot worse than you thought you did.
  591. >Or, Cyber, you guess.
  592. >Sure you didn’t really play that much, but you thought you’d at least remember the basics!
  593. >You figured you’d consistently lose to Cut too, but this is just getting embarrassing.
  594. >”I saw one with a spaceship on the box earlier, you should use that one!” says Pike.
  595. >Her interjection puts a smile on your face.
  596. >For a moment there you thought she was going to bounce the moment Cut pulled out the Mag- /Cyber/ cards, but you’re glad she didn’t.
  597. >Honestly, it still stresses you out a little when you spend time with just one of them.
  598. >But that is the point of these scheduled days, to help settle your fears with the power of math.
  599. >You have been feeling less like an asshole for snuggling up to one when the other isn’t around, so you’d say that’s a sign it's working, at least.
  600. >Hey enough about your problems, brain, today’s supposed to be about Cut!
  601. >Who still hasn’t answered your question.
  602. >>”Hmmm, the megacorp galactic destiny deck? It would compliment his playstyle of just throwing constructs at me,” she says to herself.
  603. >Ah, knowing Cut, it looks like if you don’t choose for her she’ll be considering the logistics for the next twenty minutes.
  604. >But it's not like you know what any of these decks can do, how are /you/ supposed to choose?
  605. >Oh wait, there is one deck that you know how to work!
  606. “Hey! How about you let me use the deck with that insta-win card, and I’ll pick a deck at random for you to use! That should even the odds a bit.”
  607. >That, predictably, snaps Cut out of her thinking with a start.
  608. >>”Ahh! A-actually that would probably work. I haven’t used some of those decks in a long time.”
  609. >Perfect!
  610. >Reaching into the box, you dig through it to find whichever deck is buried at the absolute bottom of the stack.
  611. >Deeper... deeper...
  612. >Ooo! This one’s box is covered in dust, excellent!
  613. >Pulling the deck out triumphantly, you present it to Cut.
  614. “Here you go, babe.”
  615. >She turns quite a delightful shade of red at the pet name, but she tries to remain stoic to preserve some of her (little) marely pride.
  616. >>”*Ahem* Th-thank you! Uh... sweetie!”
  617. >Grabbing the deck out of your magic, she puts the one she just used in its place.
  618. >Which allows her to actually get a good look at it.
  619. >>”Woah, wait, is this my third generation blue-red control deck? I haven’t used this in years! I thought I lost it,” she says with a look of wonder on her face.
  620. >Jackpot!
  621. >Sounds like your ship has finally come in.
  622. >Victory here you come!
  623.  
  624. >>”And that brings your life total to zero; I win.”
  625. >It's taking everything you’ve got not to slam your face into the table.
  626. >The universe practically handed you victory on a silver platter and you still blew it.
  627. >Cut still has ten life! Ten!
  628. >Jesus this mare is good.
  629. >Speaking of, she’s already rushing to soften the blow as she awkwardly adjusts her glasses.
  630. >>”B-but you did really well this time! You’re getting the hang of it.”
  631. >You suppose she’s right, but that really doesn’t make you feel a whole lot better.
  632. >Fuck, your pride is screaming at you for what you’re about to say, but at some point a man’s got to admit he’s beat.
  633. “Alright, babe, I think I’m going to have to go back on my word and ask you to go easy on me.”
  634. >You can hear Pike smirk into her hoof at that, which is fair.
  635. >>”Oh? You sure?”
  636. >You sigh once more.
  637. >You /hate/ people going easy on you, but at this point it's obvious that the skill gap is just too great.
  638. >If she doesn’t the rest of the night is just going to be you getting your ass kicked.
  639. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
  640. >You start gathering your cards again, opting to stick with the deck you’ve done the best with so far.
  641. “Be honest though; how many tournaments have you won?”
  642. >As you start shuffling, you were expecting something along the lines of a bashful Cut giving you an answer in the high teens.
  643. >But that’s not what you get.
  644. >Instead she glumly hangs her head as she sets her deck down.
  645. >>”None.”
  646. >You’re so surprised by the answer you nearly drop the deck you were shuffling, you magic only barely catching it at the last moment.
  647. >How can that be?!
  648. >”Really?” comes the suddenly interested voice from your side, “So what you’re telling me is Anon is just complete manure at this card game?”
  649. >What!? No you’re not! You’re alright!
  650. >You think.
  651. >>”No, no he’s not,” says Cut.
  652. >Phew!
  653. >>”I mean, I’ve been cleaning house at the friendly games Silken runs every so often, but I’ve never actually won any /real/ tournaments.”
  654. >Setting your own deck down, but seeing how Cut has yet to draw from hers, you refrain from pulling from it.
  655. “Geez, must be some stiff competition.”
  656. >Cut laughs out loud, although the laugh sounds more angry than anything.
  657. >>”You kidding? Those stupid bitches don’t know their aggros from their controls!”
  658. >You hardly know the difference between those things yourself!
  659. >So what, they’re on your level then?
  660. >”What’s uh, stopping you from stomping them, then?”
  661. >Cut’s entire body droops, her eyes shifting to look out the window.
  662. >She mumbles something, quietly enough that you can’t hear it.
  663. “Say that again?”
  664. >Cut sighs in exasperation, before speaking at a level you can hear.
  665. >>”It's ‘cause they always make fun of me...”
  666. >Oh.
  667. >Oooooooooh.
  668. “So it's /that/ kind of tournament.”
  669. >She nods.
  670. >>”Yeah, it's that kind of tournament.”
  671. >You completely understand, then.
  672. >God knows there’s a lot of ammo they could use against poor Cut.
  673. >”Hold on, I’m out of the loop here,” chimes in Pike, “/What/ kind of tournament?”
  674. >You put your hoof on your chin, ‘hmmm’ing.
  675. >How do you put this in a way she can comprehend...
  676. >Aha!
  677. “You gu- *ahem* gals trash talk each other at the guard hoofball tournaments, right?”
  678. >She quirks her brow.
  679. >”Yeah?”
  680. >Perfect.
  681. “But there are lines you wouldn’t cross, right?”
  682. >She’s nodding along now.
  683. >”Of course. If you’re too much of a flankhole you get ejected from the game.”
  684. “Now imagine if that wasn’t the case, and all the ponies competing were a bunch of bitter bitches.”
  685. >Pike stops nodding, realization dawning on her face.
  686. >”Oh, oooooooooooh!”
  687. >The more she dwells on it however, the more disgust appears on her face.
  688. >”/Oh/. That’s... that’s terrible. Over a card game? Stars above.”
  689. >Her exclamation leaves the mood far more somber than it was before.
  690. >Which is to be expected, the idea of dealing with ponies like that would put a damper on anyone’s mood.
  691. >So you’ve got to do something to bring the mood back up, and stat!
  692. >What better way to do that than to shit on people who deserve it.
  693. “That’s why they call them, uhhh... marefoals, I guess.”
  694.  
  695.  
  696. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and you get why Cut doesn’t go to tournaments now.
  697. >A mare of her emotional constitution? There’s no way she could take that kind of abuse.
  698. >However, there is one thing you don’t understand, and that is what Anon just said.
  699. “That’s why they’re called what now?”
  700. >You were hoping it was some nerd thing, but a sideways glance at Cut sinks that theory.
  701. >She’s just as confused as you!
  702. >”You know! Marefillies...?” he unhelpfully clarifies.
  703. >You and Cut both shake your heads.
  704. >While you do, you’re internally running through your internal “Anon to pony” dictionary, hoping that might shed some light.
  705. >Hmmmmm, well mare means man, and foal usually means kid.
  706. >Mankid?
  707. >That doesn’t help at all.
  708. >Although, you’ve got to hoof it to him, if he was just saying nonsense to help lift the mood, it seems to be working.
  709. >>”Marefoal as in a mare that acts like a filly?”
  710. >His face lights up, Cut clearly hitting the nail on the head.
  711. >”Exactly! Back home we had a special term for people like that. I hoped it would directly translate.”
  712. >Oh! Now you know what he’s trying to say.
  713. “The world you’re looking for is ‘yearling,’ Anon.”
  714. >He balks a bit, surprised.
  715. >”What, like the author? Pffft, fuck off, you do not call them that!”
  716. >His reaction was just extreme enough to banish the last of that somber mood, and leave you and Cut in stitches.
  717. >Which, of course, means he definitely doesn’t believe you now.
  718. >”Oh you two are /so/ messing with me!”
  719. >>”We’re not!” cries Cut between guffaws, “It's true! They’re a bunch of stuck up /yearlings/!”
  720. >He crosses his hooves and pouts, his every word dripping with indignation despite the ghost of a smile on his lips.
  721. >”Oh yeah, what came first then? The author or the word?”
  722. >Which of course just makes you and Cut laugh harder.
  723. “The word! Who do you think buys all her books!?”
  724. >Anon’s ire is instantly shattered as the same mirth that’s possessed you and Cut possesses him.
  725. >”Ha! Oh God, her parents must have /hated/ her. Imagine naming your kid Manchild!”
  726. >Cut, having calmed down enough to speak, wipes a tear from her eye.
  727. >>”Well, it's probably a pen name.”
  728. >Anon snorts, in a very unlordlike way.
  729. >”So what, she just hates her fans?”
  730. >That nearly sends Cut into another laughing fit.
  731. >>”Have you ever /been/ to a Daring Do convention?”
  732. >Her gaze swivels between Anon and you, clearly expecting the two of you to chime in with your own experiences.
  733. >But you and Anon just shake your heads.
  734. >Honestly, what did she expect?
  735. >>”W-well they can get pretty bad,” she awkwardly amends.
  736. >Hoping to throw her a bone, you decide to chime in with the only Daring Do convention related story you have.
  737. “I did have to break up a bar fight after one a couple years ago, if that counts.”
  738. >You barely notice it as she suddenly stiffens.
  739. >>”It... wasn’t at the Salty Spitoon, was it?”
  740. >Oh hey, you’d forgotten the name of the bar it happened at!
  741. “It was! About five years ago, back when I was just a lowly patrolmare.”
  742. >For the briefest of moments Cut fur stands on end and she starts fidgeting with her hooves.
  743. >Odd, you wonder why.
  744. “Astral and I were expecting an easy patrol, despite what we heard was in town, but filly were we wrong!”
  745. >You remember the moment in perfect clarity.
  746. >You’d just got done ranting about how it was stupid for the two of you to even be patrolling that night, when suddenly a chair comes flying out the window of the bar.
  747. “By the time we were on the scene, that whole bar was at each other’s throats!”
  748. >Thinking back to the mental image, you can’t help but start laughing.
  749. >After all...
  750. “The best part is, every single one of them was still in costume!”
  751. >The image makes Anon start laughing along, however Cut just nervously titters.
  752. >What could be bothering her?
  753. >>”Do you happen to... remember why the fight started?”
  754. >Ooo oo! That part’s great too!
  755. “It was all over one of the villains! The stallion! Oh what was his name...”
  756. >>”Caballeron?” she adds with what almost seems to be mounting horror.
  757. “That’s it! They were fighting over him!”
  758. >According to the witnesses after the fact, some mare was claiming that he just needed a guiding hoof to set him straight, and another questioned whether or not the former had even read the books.
  759. >Then the punches started flying.
  760. “I almost couldn’t believe it was all over some stallion. A /fictional/ stallion.”
  761. >Aw mare, the mileage you’ve gotten out of that story.
  762. >Say, Cut’s obviously no stranger to Daring Do conventions, maybe she was there?
  763. >Heck, maybe she even knows the mare that supposedly threw the first punch!
  764. >You never did find her.
  765. >...come to think of it, Cut’s build /is/ pretty similar to how witnesses described that mare...
  766. >And Cut herself is looking awfully nervous for some reason.
  767. >>”See what I mean, those yearlings can get a-awfully awful about things.”
  768. >Is she...?
  769. >Nah, you’re just imagining things.
  770. >>”Anyway, so yeah. That’s why the tournament sucks,” Cut concludes.
  771. >Anon leans over the table, focusing once again on Cut.
  772. >”About that,” he cuts in, “It's not like there’s not a bunch of board game shops in town. Why don’t one of those just make a new tournament if this one’s so bad?”
  773. >Cut, clearly relieved, playfully rolls her eyes.
  774. >>”Celestia, I wish! The Board Game Barn cut some kinda deal with the company that makes Cyber though.”
  775. >Oh Luna, it's there?!
  776. >Just thinking about that place makes you (and Anon, considering the sound he just made) gag.
  777. >”*Blech* It's /there/? Jesus, no wonder it's crap. Well now you’ve gotta go back!”
  778.  
  779.  
  780. >You are Cut N. Paste, and... huh!?
  781. >You just got done telling Anon about how horrible the ponies that enter that tournament are!
  782. >Why would he suggest you /go back/?!
  783. >>”I’m not following,” says Pike, mirroring your own thoughts.
  784. >He just perplexingly points to himself and Pike.
  785. >”Isn’t it obvious?”
  786. >He sounds far more incredulous than he has any right to be.
  787. >He holds his hooves there for a moment, waiting for you or Pike to pick up on what he was implying.
  788. >After several seconds of the two of you not making whatever connection he wants you to though, he lets them drop.
  789. >”Okay, okay, think about it like this: how would they try to make fun of you?”
  790. >Out of habit, you look down at your hooves.
  791. >Don’t bite them, Cut! Pike had them done for a reason!
  792. “Th-they’d probably tell me I’m fat, make f-fun of my teats...”
  793. >”No, no, no, that’s not what I mean,” Anon cuts you off, “Why would they bring those up? What would they use those things to say?”
  794. >Well probably that you’d never get a—
  795. >Oh, OH!
  796. “They’d say I’d never get a coltfriend!”
  797. >He does an odd motion with one of his spectral hands, making a “snap” sound.
  798. >”Exactly! And what do you have?”
  799. >>”A herd!” excitedly adds Pike, “Anon that’s genius! There’s no way those maladjusts have had as much as a date to their name, so anything they’d try to use at Cut would just be nocking a bow with an empty quiver!”
  800. >Suddenly it makes sense!
  801. >You’re imagining your opponent telling you that you’ll die alone, only for Anon to strut up and kiss you on the lips.
  802. >The looks on their faces would be priceless!
  803. >Best of all, you doubt many of them could even beat you in a fair game!
  804. >All they use are cheap meta decks, which you could easily counter...
  805. >Pike and Anon clearly share your newfound enthusiasm, they’re both excitedly discussing the best ways to torture the tournament goers.
  806. >Which, you admit, sounds pretty dang fun.
  807. >However, the fact is...
  808. “I-I still don’t know if I really want to do that.”
  809. >They both stop in their tracks.
  810. >”...Yeah, I can see it.”
  811. >>”What!?,” Pike interjects, rapidly looking between you and Anon, “Why not!?”
  812. “W-well...”
  813. >You quickly stop yourself, taking a deep breath to steel your nerves.
  814. “*Ahem* I’d still have to /be/ there and have those ponies say those things to me.”
  815. >Pike deflates, understanding.
  816. >>”Darn.”
  817. >She scrunches her face, clearly trying to puzzle something out.
  818. >>”...Even if Anon and I were there the whole time?”
  819. >Well, sure, that would make it much better, but you wouldn’t make them do that.
  820. >These tournaments can go all night!
  821. >Almost all they’d be doing would be just waiting around the whole time.
  822. “I don’t want the two of you to waste your day just so I could win some dumb tournament.”
  823. >Anon claps his hooves, making you flinch just a bit.
  824. >”Nonsense! Spending an evening messing with these gals would hardly be a waste!”
  825. >>”And,” says Pike, her face turning mischievous, “It can all serve a higher purpose!”
  826. >Hopping off the couch, she struts over to you and puts her hoof on your shoulder.
  827. >>”Cut, a mare must be assertive and stand up for herself. You can’t just let any old hater get you down.”
  828. >”I see where you’re going hon, and you’re absolutely right,” says Anon as he too leaves his seat.
  829. >Circling around to the other side of you, he puts his hoof on your other shoulder.
  830. >The two of them lean in toward you.
  831. >”I cannot think of a better place you could work on asserting yourself, than shitting on a bunch of bitter losers.”
  832. >...
  833. >You know what?
  834. >They’re right!
  835. >There’s nothing to be afraid of!
  836. >Sure, you’ll probably hear a lot of horrible things.
  837. >But... but! You /do/ need to work on not taking those things to heart!
  838. >You’ve got a successful career, and not one, but /two/ relationships that are looking very bright, after all!
  839. >Outwardly, by all accounts of maredom, you’re a successful member of society!
  840. >Something that almost certainly cannot be said for the ponies of the Board Game Barn.
  841. >Ponies who somepony desperately needs to teach a lesson.
  842. >You smile evilly, an expression Pike and Anon immediately mirror.
  843. “Let’s do it.”
  844.  
  845.  
  846. >The evening of the tournament has come, and the Pike household is filled with a very unusual sound.
  847. >Scrub scrub scrub scrub.
  848. >But you, Nocturnal Pike, don’t mind in the least.
  849. >After all, it’s the sign that Anon is busy doing what he, arguably, does best.
  850. >Giving coats a nice firm brushing.
  851. >You and Cut are currently sharing a tub, while an entranced Anon gives the two of you a VERY thorough cleansing.
  852. >You had originally intended for only Cut to be on the receiving end of Anon’s five-star treatment this evening.
  853. >But that was foolish, you should have known that once he got started, it was only a matter of time before he dragged you into the tub as well.
  854. >Literally, in this case!
  855. >Not that you’re complaining, of course, even if the tub is more than a little snug with the both of you.
  856. >”Mmmmmm, Pike...” Cut dreamily addresses you, “Not to put a damper on this, but how is this ‘necessary to our winning strategy’ again?”
  857. >Seeing as Anon was hard at work on her, you allow yourself to sink into the warm suds a little.
  858. >Ahh, nothing like the serene calm of a well warmed bathtub to plan the psychological downfall of your fellow equines.
  859. >Holding your head up just high enough to speak, you reply,
  860. “The great Thestral General, Yue Tzu, once said: ‘tennis is a mental game’. She also said, ‘war is a lot like tennis’.”
  861. >Cut nods her head, but that could just be because Anon’s started undoing a particularly nasty knot in her coat.
  862. “And we’re waging war here, Cut. These mares probably haven’t bathed in months, so we’re going to walk in there smelling like soap our /coltfriend/ picked for us.”
  863. >Cut lets out an “ahhhhh,” which you chose to take as an approval of your tactical genius, and not the sign that she’s about to fall asleep under Anon’s ministrations.
  864. >Even though her posture is completely limp at this point, and her head has come to rest on his shoulder as he rhythmically brushes...
  865. >Mmmmmm, now that looks comfortable.
  866. >Sliding yourself up just enough to safely prop your head up on the side of the tub, you close your eyes and savor the feeling of the warmth seeping into your coat.
  867. >Might as well rest a bit, you’re sure Anon will wake you up on time.
  868.  
  869.  
  870. >You are Cut N. Paste, nervous wreck.
  871. >As the evening sunsets, the wind is howling and the snow is whipping against your coat, adding to the heightened sense of anxiety you feel.
  872. >Here you stand, right outside the Board Game Barn, preparing to walk yourself right into the maw of the beast.
  873. >Your only comfort in this fight? The weight of the decks in your saddlebags.
  874. >Well, that and the two ponies by your side if you want to be undramatic about it.
  875. >”Thanks for waking me up by the way,” says Pike, “I was /out/.”
  876. >>”Don’t thank me! If Cut hadn’t set the alarm clock, the two of you would probably still be in the tub right now!”
  877. >You feel Pike approvingly bump her flank into yours.
  878. >Well, thanks to her size she actually bumps her flank into your gaskin, but it's the thought that counts.
  879. >”Well done, Ms. Prepared!”
  880. >The compliment puts a little warmth in your chest, which nicely contrasts the cold outside.
  881. “Th-thanks.”
  882. >For once that stutter wasn’t you stumbling over your words like a fool, that was your teeth chattering!
  883. >Buck, it's cold! Makes you wish you were back in the tub.
  884. >Honestly, now that you’re here, the thought of entering the board game barn at all makes you wish you were back in the tub.
  885. >You were so gung-ho earlier, but now...
  886. >Maybe you shouldn’t have set that alarm.
  887. >It’s too late for that though.
  888. >Even with the added insulation of your bra, your nipples are so cold you feel like they could cut diamonds.
  889. >If you try to turn around and head home now, they’ll probably be rubbed raw by the time you’re back.
  890. >And that’s not something you’d like to feel anytime soon.
  891. >So, looks like you’ve got no choice.
  892. >You’re going in.
  893. >Putting on a brave face and fighting nearly all of your instincts, you quit lollygagging and start trotting toward the entrance to the barn.
  894. >Anon and Pike match your pace, and thankfully before you know it, you’ve pushed open the door and taken your first steps into the Board Game Barn after a long, long time.
  895. >Only for your perseverance to be rewarded with your nose being violated by the most putrid smell!
  896. >It nearly knocks you off your hooves as your semi-confident stride is instantly turned into a stumble.
  897. >Looking around, you see the shop looks exactly as you remembered it.
  898. >It's stylized to fit its namesake, a barn, complete with red and white paint.
  899. >In fact, the only real difference between it and your average barn is where there would normally be stalls, there are instead shelves upon shelves of board games.
  900. >As you scan the room to locate the source of the stench, you’re reminded that this place actually has a pretty robust selection.
  901. >/Including/ a Hyperspace Hyperwars Imperium of Sol titan that you spy inside the glass counter that makes up the check-out.
  902. >You thought those were discontinued ages ago!
  903. >But, none of this seems to be what’s producing that awful stench.
  904. >Indeed, it seems to be coming from behind a black curtain at the back of the store.
  905. >The annex, where the tournament is actually held.
  906. >You can already hear the sounds of ponies arguing amongst themselves, clearly hoping to weed out some competition early.
  907. >Mare, the competitors aren’t even in this part of the store, and it /still/ smells like death.
  908. >Pike was clearly on the money about their bathing habits.
  909. >Wait, smells...
  910. >OH NO ANON!
  911. >Spinning around you try to warn him, but you’re too late.
  912. >The moment he steps through the door, his face turns green (well, greener than usual).
  913. >Sputtering, he hacks out a couple of coughs before sticking out his tongue.
  914. >>”Oh *cough* oh my God!”
  915. >Face full of disgust, he nearly trips over his hooves as he scrambles back out the door.
  916. >As soon as he’s out, he jams his face into the snow, trying to put a physical barrier between himself and the stench.
  917. >Which worries you quite a bit.
  918. >Will he be able to stick this out?
  919. >If just a sniff did this to him, what would the concentrated stench do?
  920. >You don’t want him to spend the evening in agony!
  921. >As he holds himself there though, you catch sight of his horn lighting up.
  922. >After a few moments, a translucent green bubble appears around his head, and after a few mere moments it fades away again.
  923. >Only once it's gone does he finally pull his head out of the snow.
  924. >As he steps back into the store, you’re surprised when he takes a deep breath and doesn’t flinch.
  925. >>”Phew, alright, much better.”
  926. >Pike grins devilishly as she bumps her hip into his thigh.
  927. >”What’s the matter? That’s the smell of pure, concentrated mare right there! I thought you’d like it!”
  928. >He sticks out his tongue once more with an “eck!”
  929. >>”No thanks. It's like if I boiled the two of you in a jar of your own sweat.”
  930. >Eeew.
  931. >You’re ashamed to admit, you can at least imagine how you would smell.
  932. >That was a dark time in your life.
  933. >Very dark time.
  934. >>”You know, usually this horse gig ain’t so bad,” he says, “but not being able to smell BO from two rooms over sounds really nice right about now.”
  935. >Wha- he’s no whorse!
  936. >How could he say that about himself!?
  937. >”Anon, you just did that thing where you casually refer to ponies as “horses”. You gotta stop—it makes ponies uncomfortable!”
  938. >As she speaks, she points a hoof at you.
  939. >”Just look at poor Cut. She looks like she’s about to blow a gasket!”
  940. >Of course you’re about to blow a gasket! He just—
  941. >Oh, right.
  942. >Alien.
  943. >Wait, does that mean to his species, everypony is a whorse?
  944. >H-How lewd...
  945. >Oh no, now they’re both looking expectantly at you, and that only means one thing.
  946. >>”What are you waiting for, Cut? Time to get yourself signed up!”
  947. >*Glup*
  948. >Turning toward the counter, you’re a little relieved to see that the shopkeep is currently distracted with the register and probably missed your exchange.
  949. >Alright, you’ll just take a deep breath and then you’ll walk up to her.
  950. >She’ll probably insult you, but that’s okay, that’s why you’re here.
  951. >You just gotta be ready.
  952. >You are a successful mare. You can do this.
  953. >Just walk over to her and—
  954. >*SMACK*
  955. >You whinny as the sound echoes throughout the store.
  956. >On instinct the impact on your flanks makes you charge forward toward the desk, and you’re only able to slow yourself down by the time you’ve reached it.
  957. >Looking back over your shoulder, you see a guilty looking Anon, his spectral hand still hanging in the air where it connected with you.
  958. >Awkwardly swinging the hand around so it's rubbing the back of his neck, he weakly stammers.
  959. >>”S-Sorry, didn’t mean for it to be that hard.”
  960. >You do not like the feeling this has awakened in you.
  961. >Turning back towards the counter, and trying to keep the blush off your face, you unfortunately find that the mare is now giving the three of you her full attention.
  962. >If you had to bet, it was the sound of the smack that jolted her out of her work.
  963. >On the upside though, instead of laughing, her jaw seems to have hit the floor.
  964. >>>”Did that stallion just slap /you/ on the flanks?”
  965. >This is your chance Cut, she’s off guard.
  966. >Don’t stammer out some half-baked reply, be bold!
  967. “Y-Yeah, and? H-he likes them.”
  968. >Oof, not great, but it's a start.
  969. >Surprisingly though, your statement leaves her pretty downcast.
  970. >>>”I wish a stallion would slap /my/ flanks,” she whispers under her breath.
  971. >Oh! That’s... unexpected.
  972. >You’re really not sure what to say now.
  973. >Casting a panicked look over your shoulder to Anon and Pike, they just shrug back at you.
  974. >Buck.
  975. >Thankfully, while you scramble for a response, the mare seems fairly preoccupied with something.
  976. >Wait, the way she’s leaning over the counter to look at you, is she checking out your flanks?
  977. >>>”Her’s aren’t any bigger than mine...”
  978. >What the buck, she totally is!
  979. >Suddenly the mare leans in and desperately whispers in your ear.
  980. >>>”Psst, hey. What’s your secret? How’d you nab a stallion like that?”
  981. >Oh, she was comparing herself to you to see if she had a chance!
  982. >Okay, okay.
  983. >You might as well give her a helping hoof and tell her the truth.
  984. “I uh, got drunk and yelled at his fillyfriend that he deserved a nice mare who wouldn’t take advantage of him. I was way off base, but she was so impressed that they asked me to herd with them.”
  985. >>>”WHAT!?” she shouts, “That actually worked!? Those rat bitches lied to me!”
  986. >Without sparing a second she vaults over the counter and takes off toward the front door.
  987. >>>”Buck this stupid job—I’m off to get some dick! This nice gal is finishing FIRST tonight!”
  988. >You attempt to muster up some sort of weak objection, but she’s already long gone.
  989. >Which, by the looks of it, leaves the counter un-mared.
  990. >Uh oh, looks like there’s nopony to sign you up for the tournament anymore!
  991. >Better to just head on out! What a darn shame.
  992. >Before you can follow that mare in making a hasty escape though, Anon and Pike join you on either side.
  993. >>”Well that was unexpected,” says Anon as he lights his horn.
  994. >In response, dozens of hands materialize and immediately start digging around behind the counter.
  995. >You know, you’ve gotten so used to it that you forget how much /taller/ Anon is than the average pony.
  996. >For example, the counter was clearly designed with mares of your height in mind.
  997. >It’s about level with your lower neck, making it easy for you to see anything from that level up, as was intended.
  998. [spoiler]>Pike, of course, can’t see behind the counter at all.[/spoiler]
  999. >Anon, however, clearly doesn’t need to even lean forward to see the entirety of what’s back there.
  1000. >You can hear him pulling open cupboards that you can only barely see the tops of as he searches for... something.
  1001. >After a few more awkward minutes of you and Pike listening to the sounds of him carelessly knocking over dozens of things out-of-sight, he finally speaks up.
  1002. >>”You entered this thing before, right, Cut? What’d they give you when you signed up? A paper ticket?”
  1003. >Oh, looks like he’s just going to sign you up himself.
  1004. “They had these pieces of whiteboard with velcro on the back. They’d write your name on it... and an insult too.”
  1005. >>”Hm, I see,” he says with a nod.
  1006. >After that, it only takes him another moment of searching before he pulls one out from under the register with an ‘Aha!’
  1007. >With a cheshire grin he presents it to you with an open palm.
  1008. >>”Now we don’t have to pay the bitches!”
  1009. >That is an amazing idea!
  1010. >Spotting an abandoned dry erase marker next to the register you stretch your neck out and wrap your teeth around it without hesitation.
  1011. >Just as you’re putting marker to board though, Pike speaks up.
  1012. >”Anon! They may be a bunch of creeps, but that doesn’t mean we should /steal/ from them! At least leave some bits on the register or something,” she chides.
  1013. >He rolls his eyes at Pike.
  1014. >>”Oh come on! Do these guys really deserve our bits?”
  1015. >But she puts her hoof down, literally in this case, when she does a little stomp.
  1016. >”Anon!”
  1017. >>”Fine, fine,” he says with a sigh, “It probably costs what, five bits?”
  1018. >Reaching a hand into his bag, he carelessly tosses five bits onto the register.
  1019. >>”There.”
  1020. >Pike smiles and stretches out her wing to pat him on the back.
  1021. >Due to being on either side of you (and due to her size) it only barely reaches.
  1022. >”You did the right thing, Anon,” she says to him.
  1023. >Immediately after that, she leans in to whisper in your ear, “See, Cut, as a mare you’ve got to be ready to reign in your stallion’s whimsey whenever it appears. Even if it's fairly marish whimsey.”
  1024. >One of Anon’s hands proceeds to wiggle its way between the two of you though, and, in an unprecedented move, boops /her/.
  1025. >>”Ha ha, very funny,” he says, clearly having heard.
  1026. >Slowly the piece of whiteboard slides into your view.
  1027. >>”Alright Cut, get your name on this and let’s get in there.”
  1028. >Hm, you’re going to need to put an insult on there too, unless you want to be singled out.
  1029. >Well, the obvious would be what they put on there last time when you came without an expensive bra.
  1030. >Do you really want to go down that road though?
  1031. >Taking a brief glance between Anon and Pike, they’re both smiling at you, and you can feel their support without them needing to say anything.
  1032. >Alright, you’re going to do it.
  1033. >And this time, you’re going to own it!
  1034.  
  1035.  
  1036.  
  1037. >”What do you think da~ling, how do I look?”
  1038. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and you’re chuckling at the bizarre accent Anon is doing.
  1039. “*Snirk* Shut up,” you say as you poke him in the ribs.
  1040. >He’s draped Cut’s discarded bra around his withers like a boa scarf, and now he’s twiring it like one too.
  1041. >”I think I look positively dashing!”
  1042. >Pffffft!
  1043. >He must have had a lot of run-ins with nobles while he was staying at the castle, there’s no other way he’d be able to mimic their inflections so well.
  1044. “Come on, I think they’re about to start!”
  1045. >Immediately, the hand twirling the bra fades away.
  1046. >”Shit, you’re right!”
  1047. >Turning his attention away from being a faux-fop, the two of you look out over the tournament annex.
  1048. >It's more or less what you’d expect, a large open room (also stylized as a barn) populated by a dozen or so tables that have been arranged in a square so they could run multiple games simultaneously.
  1049. >And, surprisingly, at nearly every table is a set of mares, each ready to tear each other to pieces.
  1050. >Even from your side of the room, a million different insults reach your ears.
  1051. >>”I bet a moron like you plays blue control!”
  1052. >>>”You really ought to sell your cards, you buckup!”
  1053. >>>>”I didn’t think mudponies had the faculties to play a complex game like Cyber!”
  1054. >Stars above, they haven’t even started playing yet!
  1055. >Looking to the center of the farthest wall you see the tournament bracket, full of names and various insults.
  1056. >There’s only one name and insult on it you care about though.
  1057. >Situated at the very bottom right is a board that says “Cut N. Paste: fattest teats in Canterlot.”
  1058. >You were very surprised when Cut wrote that on it herself, even more so when she unclasped her bra right then and there.
  1059. >Anon, of course, tried to turn himself invisible by putting it on his head, but when that didn’t work he settled for wearing it like a scarf.
  1060. >Which certainly turned some heads when the three of you walked in.
  1061. >Taking a closer look at the bracket itself though, it looks like if Cut wins all her games she’ll only need to face four ponies before winning.
  1062. >Thank Luna honestly.
  1063. >You’re looking forward to making some of these mares’ days worse and all, but you’ve only been in here a few minutes and you feel like you need another bath.
  1064. >”Hey, Pike. Check out the wreck she’s up against!”
  1065. >Looking at the table you saw Cut take a seat at earlier, you bite back a harsh laugh.
  1066. >Okay, if this mare goes for appearance-based insults, Cut should have this easy.
  1067. >Looks like the two of you may not need to leave your spot on the wall after all.
  1068. >You /wanted/ to just sit with her at the table but the refs were very explicit.
  1069. >Her table’s only one away from the outer edge of the rectangle though, so you’re at least still within earshot.
  1070. >That way, if the two of you need to step in and support her, you can.
  1071. >She’s digging through her saddlebags now, likely trying to decide which of her decks to use.
  1072. >Only a matter of time before the games start.
  1073. “You can do it, Cut! Beat her!”
  1074. >”Yeah! Kill her!” shouts Anon.
  1075.  
  1076.  
  1077. >You are Cut N. Paste and you’re not sure what you’re feeling right now.
  1078. >Hmmm, a red/white control deck?
  1079. >No, no.
  1080. >Maybe you should go with a blue deck?
  1081. >”Having trouble deciding?” the voice across from you asks.
  1082. >Turning your attention from your pack to the mare at the other end of the table, you get a good look at your opponent for the first time.
  1083. >”Too many decks? How foolish. A jill of all trades is a master of none.”
  1084. >The mare in front of you is a unic— no wait. She’s just /built/ like a unicorn.
  1085. >She’s actually an earth pony, like you, but taller, and much much tinner.
  1086. >You believe most ponies would call her a “lanklet”.
  1087. >She’s dressed in the form-fitting uniform of a MegaCorpo cosplay, which serves to not only highlight her skeletal build but also to tip you off toward her playstyle.
  1088. >Looking directly at her face— oh Celestia this poor mare!
  1089. >Her coat is already thinning around her face, which only makes it easier to see the terrible acne she’s got.
  1090. >How does she still have acne? She’s probably as old as you.
  1091. >Reaching behind herself she pulls out a stack of token cards.
  1092. >Okay, black with a ton of tokens? You’re pretty sure you know what she’s running.
  1093. >”I meanwhile have /mastered/ my deck!” she shouts as she slams it on the table.
  1094. >You’re admittedly a little intimidated now.
  1095. >But now you know just the deck to use!
  1096. >”Cut N. Paste! I, Monopoly Money, will utterly destroy you here and now!
  1097.  
  1098.  
  1099. >You are Twitchy Gaming, and you are psyched!
  1100. >The tournament starts in a few minutes and your opponent isn’t even here!
  1101. >Looks like you’re getting a free ride to the second bracket, score!
  1102. >With the first opponent down, you’re one step closer to winning this tournament and restoring your honor!
  1103. >However, your premature celebration is cut off at the sound of the entrance curtain flapping open.
  1104. >Presuming it's your opponent running late, you lazily roll your head towards it.
  1105. >Only for your heart to stop.
  1106. >In comes a perfectly white mare, dressed in a billowing black cloak.
  1107. >The hood disguises her identity, but you still know who it is the moment you lay your eyes on her.
  1108. “G-Grandmaster!?”
  1109. >The moment the word leaves your mouth, her head snaps directly to you.
  1110. >The yellow eyes under the enchanted cloak burning a hole in your soul.
  1111. >You frantically look around, hoping against hope that there’s another open seat and she might not be your opponent.
  1112. >But all is lost, there’s not a single open seat left in the room.
  1113. >Buck! Buck buck buck buck! This is what you get for not checking the board!
  1114. >AHHH!
  1115. >You turned your head back toward the Grandmaster, only to find she’s already crossed the room and taken her seat in front of you.
  1116. >How!?
  1117. >”Bah,” comes an ominous voice from under her hood, “How dare they? Are there truly no worthwhile opponents left here?”
  1118. >Slowly she leans in toward your face as you begin to quake more and more.
  1119. >”I can see it in your eyes,” comes a voice dripping with scorn, “You're not even good enough to be called, Third. Rate.”
  1120. >YOU CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE!
  1121. >BUCK this tournament, you’re out of here!
  1122. >With a thousand years of pony evolution in your hooves you leap from the table and charge toward the door with wild abandon, your thoughts of honor forgotten.
  1123. >In your absence, the mare simply leans back in her chair and sighs, not even bothering to watch you go.
  1124. >Had you stuck around though, you would have seen those projected eyes widen in surprise as they fell upon the only stallion in the room.
  1125. >”Anon...”
  1126.  
  1127.  
  1128.  
  1129. >You are Cut N. Paste.
  1130. >Across from you is your first opponent in tonight’s games, Monopoly Money.
  1131. >The wiry mare is cockily eyeing you up, although you’re not sure where her confidence is coming from.
  1132. >Is she actually good at Cyber? Or does she peg you as somepony who’ll be easy to drive off with vitriol alone?
  1133. >You suppose you’ll have to wait and see.
  1134. >The ambient noise of the room has quieted considerably now, with a set of judges stopping by each table to facilitate a coin toss for who goes first.
  1135. >Eventually one stops by your table.
  1136. >”Alright. You, in the outfit. Heads or tails?” the judge asks.
  1137. >Money smiles, very confidently.
  1138. >Why’s she look like that over a coin toss?
  1139. >”Heads,” your foe replies.
  1140. >Dang, that’s what you would have picked!
  1141. >Wordlessly, the judge telekinetically flips the coin she brough.
  1142. >Watching it with bated breath, it tumbles through the air before landing right in front of you.
  1143. >Heads, buck.
  1144. >”Heh, looks like I’m first!”
  1145. >Taking a look down at your hoof, you figure you’ll be fine.
  1146. >A construct, a program (which Anon said were called ‘sorceries’ in his game), two regular factories, and a special factory.
  1147. >”I play a single black factory, and end my turn.”
  1148. >Confused, you look up from your hoof to see it's exactly as she said.
  1149. >One plain old factory, nothing special.
  1150. >That’s... unexpected, you figured she’d summon a construct at least.
  1151. >Oh well, her loss you suppose.
  1152. “In that case, I’ll summon a basic blue factory as well...”
  1153. >Which will give you exactly enough production to summon the construct in your hoof!
  1154. “... and I’ll tap it to summon, Salacious Combat Diver!”
  1155. >You’d never admit it, but this is one of your favorite cards.
  1156. >Sure, it's just a basic two attack, one defense construct, but it only costs one production!
  1157. >And the art is pretty great...
  1158. >F-From a purely aesthetic viewpoint!
  1159. >Sure, s-some less than savory mares might only like it because they think an amazonian shark colt in a banana hammock is incredibly hot... b-but you’re above such baser impulses!
  1160. >”Well well, what an incredibly mundane choice! Too bad you can’t attack with constructs you summoned this turn.”
  1161. >Is this some new kind of flame?
  1162. >’Condescendingly explain rules your opponent already knows’?
  1163. >Seems kinda weird, but you might as well give it a shot.
  1164. “Y-Yeah, lucky you! S-since you don’t have a construct to block or... anything.”
  1165. >Okay, that sucked. You’re not trying that again.
  1166. >The mare annoyingly chuckles at your fumble, and draws a card from her deck.
  1167. >”Oh! Would you look at that.”
  1168. >Looking up from her card, she smirks at you.
  1169. >”You know what? You seem like you’re in a tough spot, so I’ll do you a favor.”
  1170. >As she speaks, she puts down the rest of her hoof.
  1171. >”I’m going to give you a little hint as to how I’ll beat you. I’ll start by playing THIS!”
  1172. >With all the flair of a mare who thinks her battle won, she places the card before you, and you nearly fall out of your seat.
  1173. >Before you lay a card you never believed you’d ever see.
  1174. >Printed on it is what is known as a ‘car’ in the world of Cyber, and the straightforward effect of adding four production to one’s production pool.
  1175. >On the surface, it wouldn’t look like anything special to a pony who’s not in the know.
  1176. >But you know.
  1177. >Oh, yoooooooooou know alright.
  1178. >KNOW THAT IT COSTS OVER A THOUSAND BITS!
  1179. “THE BLACK LOTUS!?”
  1180. >The mare just laughs.
  1181. >”Oh don’t look so surprised. This deck’s got dozens of them!”
  1182. >What.
  1183. >”Heck, I’ve got so many of them that I could line one of the wheels on this ‘car’!”
  1184. >WHAT!?
  1185. >You’ve leaned so far back in your chair that you’re practically making a 125 degree angle with the table!
  1186. >How is that possible?
  1187. >How much money did she spend!?
  1188. >”I only need five, or maybe six of them to take you out though. Better hope you get those constructs out fast!”
  1189. >Okay. Okay, Cut, this isn’t terrible.
  1190. >Sure, this mare just admitted to blowing thousands of bits to build this Cyber deck, but she also admitted you’ll win if you can kill her faster than she can get those out.
  1191. >And this is an aggro deck, killing is what it's good at.
  1192. >”Oh, and I’ll tap it to summon a Corporate Death Stooge.”
  1193. >Okay, that’s a simple 1/2 construct.
  1194. >She’ll probably use it to block your attack this turn, but at least your combat diver’s two attack means the stooge will die despite it’s two defense.
  1195. >Now to just draw your card...
  1196. >Yes! A submariner!
  1197. >It costs three production, but if you play that special factory this turn you’ll have enough to summon him.
  1198. “Then I’ll start my turn playing Offshore Oil Rig, giving me two more blue production!”
  1199. >Placing the card next to the factory you already put down, you ready yourself to summon your construct.
  1200. >”Hm, another cheap card. I see you spent all your money on that hooker.”
  1201. >You stop dead in your tracks, your move forgotten.
  1202. “What did you just say?”
  1203. >Your opponent laughs callously.
  1204. >”Oh come on. You really think you’re the first one to try that? Every mare here has tried her hoof at the old, ‘hire a whorse to pretend it's your cf’ routine.”
  1205. >Slamming your hoof, both your cards and the appendage, onto the table you shout back at her.
  1206. “AS IF! ANON IS MUCH TOO CLASSY A STALLION FOR /THAT/!”
  1207. >You can feel the white hot anger surging through your veins!
  1208. >How dare she compare your KING to a whorse!?
  1209. >If looks could kill, the look you’re beaming right into her face would vaporize her!
  1210. >The flankhole has the audacity to smirk at you.
  1211. >”Though, props for also getting a mare to pretend to be your alpha! That's original.”
  1212. >Ooooooooh this mare is going to GET IT!
  1213. >”Most mares would be too proud to do something like that. Then again... you don’t seem to have much to be proud about, do you?”
  1214. >As she shifts the target toward you, you can feel the flame start to fade.
  1215. >No! Remember what she said about Anon and Pike, forget what she says about you!
  1216. >You’ve got to... you’ve got to finish your turn!
  1217. “O-Oh yeah? Well you won’t be so smug you uh, idiot, after I summon th—”
  1218. >”After you summon? Did you forget who’s turn it was?”
  1219. >Huh?
  1220. >All your feelings are instantly washed away in a flood of confusion.
  1221. >Is she really trying to pull something that basic?
  1222. >It's obviously still your tur—
  1223. >Oh no.
  1224. >Your eyes widen with horror as they fall on her side of the table.
  1225. >When did she put a second Black Lotus out!?
  1226. >”When you put your hoof on the table I took that as you ending your turn,” she says with a condescending shrug, “You didn’t even flinch when I drew and played my next Black Lotus.”
  1227. >She briefly glances at her cards.
  1228. >”But I suppose I’m done with my turn now anyway. You can go.”
  1229. >She’s not even going to use those lotuses to summon a construct!?
  1230. >She’s mocking you!
  1231. >...in more ways than one.
  1232. >As that realization hits you, you feel like for the briefest of moments you catch sight of two counters.
  1233. >The kind they sometimes use in card game mangas.
  1234. >Except these aren’t to show your life points, instead they say mental points.
  1235. >And yours just went from twenty out of twenty, to fifteen out of twenty.
  1236. >Buck, is this really your mind’s best way of coping with this?
  1237. >Inventing fake card game mechanics just to keep track of your failing resolve?
  1238. >Looks like it, as your internal despair ticks it down another point.
  1239. >Great.
  1240. “I’ll uh, put down a basic green factory.”
  1241. >Come on, you’ve got to gain back some traction.
  1242. >What would Pike say?
  1243. >’Luna’s sake, you actually spent money on this crap?’
  1244. >No, that wouldn’t work, you’ve spent way too much money too.
  1245. >Maybe Anon?
  1246. >’Bitch, your fuckin’ face is ugly as hell!’
  1247. >Mmm. Well, might as well try it.
  1248. >Wait, what are you saying?
  1249. >You are (probably) the best Cyber player in this room!
  1250. >This is /your/ domain!
  1251. >You ought to let her have it!
  1252. “And now I’m going to summon Submariner! That way next turn he can hit you in your s-stupid ugly face!”
  1253. >Yeah! YEAH!
  1254. >>”Woo, go, Cut!” you hear Anon shout from the sidelines.
  1255. >Oh yeah, oh yeah!
  1256. >There’s no way she’s not reeling after that one!
  1257. >Grinning triumphantly, you slide your salacious combat diver forward to denote an attack.
  1258. “Now Salacious Combat Diver! Go forth!”
  1259. >Grinning like a madmare, you gaze upon the face of your opponent who’ll surely bear the crushing expression of defeat!
  1260. >Only for the mare’s unimpressed look to physically knock the wind out of you.
  1261. >”That’s what? Two damage? Yeah I’ll just take that.”
  1262. >She... she’s not even going to bother blocking it?
  1263. >Does she think she’s that far ahead?
  1264. >Is she that far ahead?
  1265. >”Is that all for your turn?” she asks condescendingly.
  1266. >You cast a desperate look toward your cards, hoping for /something/.
  1267. >But the only thing you could play right now is that program, which won’t do you any good at the moment.
  1268. >Trying to keep your voice strong, you answer.
  1269. “Yeah...”
  1270. >Celestia damn it, that wasn’t strong at all.
  1271. >Drawing a card from her deck, she smiles as she places it in front of her.
  1272. >Another Black Lotus!? Arrrrg!
  1273. >”You might be right about my face, but with enough cash, any stallion is more than happy to look past it.”
  1274. >Oh no!
  1275. >You’ve obviously lost any sort of insult momentum you had, and now she intends to take full advantage of that.
  1276. >”But I don’t know a single stallion who’d /actually/ be able to stomach teats like that, even with my kind of money.”
  1277. >Ouch, right in the foalhood insecurity.
  1278. >Almost unconsciously, you feel your posture sag and your tail attempts to press itself as close to your butt as possible in order to obscure your teats.
  1279. >Something that works quite well, if you’re standing.
  1280. >”I mean, look at them! They’re huge!”
  1281.  
  1282.  
  1283. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and this is bad.
  1284. >You and Anon had decided to wait before intervening, in order to give Cut a chance to stand on her own four hooves.
  1285. >But listening to her flounder in the face of adversity makes you deeply reconsider that whole approach.
  1286. >Anon, of course, echoes your thoughts.
  1287. >”We gotta do something, stat!”
  1288. “Agreed.”
  1289. >Your mind starts reeling, trying to come up with /something/ that could turn the tide.
  1290. >You can’t just run up and start insulting the mare yourself, as fun as that would be.
  1291. >That’d only make Cut look weak, and put an even bigger target on her back for the rest of the tournament.
  1292. >But you obviously can’t just sit idly by.
  1293. >>”They’re completely repulsive!” shouts Cut’s foe.
  1294. >She seems to be really digging into Cut over her teats right now, which is expected.
  1295. >Cut’s withstanding it, but you can tell by her slowly drooping posture that it's really getting to her.
  1296. >Hmmm, how could you turn that around?
  1297. >Turning your eyes back to Anon, you see he’s got a smile slowly growing on his face.
  1298. “You come up with something?”
  1299. >His smile grows.
  1300. >”Oh yeah. Oh ho ho yeah!”
  1301.  
  1302.  
  1303. >You are Cut N. Paste.
  1304. >Once again you see your mental life counter before, and you’re watching in horror as it rapidly approaches zero.
  1305. >You don’t think you can do this.
  1306. >The things Monopoly Money is saying are filling your head with doubt.
  1307. >”Be honest, how much /cow/ is in your family?”
  1308. >You don’t even have it in you anymore to protest.
  1309. >Maybe you should just go, get it over with.
  1310. >You don’t want to listen to her anymore, lest you start believing that what she’s saying is true.
  1311. >That Anon doesn’t actually think you’re attractive. That he’s just being nice.
  1312. >It would make more sense though...
  1313. >Suddenly, the miasma consuming your mind is interrupted by a weight on your withers.
  1314. >It's Anon!
  1315. >He’s leaned himself over the back of your chair.
  1316. >It almost looks like he’s mounting you... how l-lewd.
  1317. >Leaning his head down next to your ear, he puts on an expression that can only be described as obscenely sultry.
  1318. >”Hey, what are you—”
  1319. >>”Cut,” he cuts her off, “If you beat this bitch to the curb, when we get home I’ll suck your titties ‘till milk comes out.”
  1320. >Uhhhhhh.
  1321. >Uh uh uh uh!
  1322. >Cut is not home right now, please come back later!
  1323. >”Eeeeuugh! That’s disgusting!” shouts your opponent. “What the buck is wrong with you!? Why would you say that?!”
  1324. >You know in your heart that she’s right, what Anon said is, strictly speaking, revolting.
  1325. >But something about a stallion saying something so vulgar, so crass, and about you no less, turns your face bright red.
  1326. >>”What?” Anon retorts, “Never had a stallion approach /you/ for sex before?”
  1327. >Her face turns a little red too, either out of anger or shame, you can’t tell.
  1328. >”No! Stallions don’t do that!”
  1329. >>”Maybe not to you.”
  1330. >Just then, you see it.
  1331. >A crack in her defence, as her mental health points drop to seventeen.
  1332. >She starts stammering, “Well, I uh,” before abruptly shouting, “COACHING! MY OPPONENT IS BEING COACHED!”
  1333. >Uh oh!
  1334. >That brings you back to reality real quick!
  1335. >Coaching is a serious offence, and ponies regularly get ejected from tournaments for it.
  1336. >Even though this tournament is notorious for ignoring rules of conduct, you never know if maybe—
  1337. >>>”IGNORED,” comes a booming voice from across the room.
  1338. >All three of you turn your heads to the source, a pony wearing a /very/ fancy hooded cloak with glowing golden eyes.
  1339. >”Grandmaster?” Monopoly Money asks with a mixture of awe and fear.
  1340. >>”Hey thanks!” Anon shouts back.
  1341. >Turning back to you, he quickly gives you a peck on the cheek.
  1342. >>”We’re rooting for you, babe.”
  1343. >And just like that, he returns to the sidelines with Pike.
  1344. >Phew, talk about dropping in in the nick of time!
  1345. >No longer in the spiral of negative thoughts your opponent shoved you into, you feel much more clear headed.
  1346. >You can practically see your mental points filling back up to twenty!
  1347. >”It's just an act,” you hear your opponent bitterly whisper under her breath as her mental points drop a few numbers lower to fifteen.
  1348. >Which gives you an amazing idea!
  1349. >It seems like her claiming that it was “obvious” Anon was hired was just as much of her trying to cope as it was an insult.
  1350. >But now, it's much harder to deny what you already know.
  1351. >Anon and Pike DO care about you!
  1352. >And seeing how that little display of affection has already impacted her, you just had a great idea!
  1353. >You don’t need to drum up insults to insult her, you just need to do what you did to the mare at the check out desk.
  1354. >Tell the truth.
  1355. >With a genuine smile on your face, you unleash your inner dreamy schoolfilly.
  1356. “Isn’t he so sweet?” you ask without a hint of mocking or sarcasm. “He fusses over me so much sometimes.”
  1357. >Monopoly actually growls in anger.
  1358. >”You’re full of it! Did you really th—”
  1359. >Pressing the advantage, you cut her off.
  1360. “He even insisted I start using this new shampoo. It's a little fruity smelling for my taste, but he just /gushed/ about how great it’d make me smell.”
  1361. >You catch her nostrils flare ever so slightly as she subconsciously takes in the scent.
  1362. >Something that makes her grimace.
  1363. >”He’s messing with you. You smell like a stallion now,” she bitterly retorts.
  1364. >You’re practically bursting at the seams with smug satisfaction.
  1365. “Hey, not just ‘a’ stallion! He smells like it too! After all...”
  1366. >You lean in over the table, getting into her face.
  1367. “...I-I get to lather him up in it, every night.”
  1368. >Your voice wavers a bit as you picture yourself lathering him up in suds and rubbing them all over his toned flanks...
  1369. >Okay sure, that’s not the truth, you haven’t actually done that yet.
  1370. >But, it’s not like she’d know that!
  1371. >Which seems to be the case, judging by the growing expression of shock on her face.
  1372. >Whipping her head towards Anon she shouts, “Hey! You! Get over here and let me smell you!”
  1373. >You don’t even need to look at him, able to visualize the disgust on his face as you hear him scoff.
  1374. >>”Ew, what the fuck? Fuck no!”
  1375. >You can see the desperation in her eyes as she goes for her bit bag.
  1376. >”I-I’ll pay you! I just need to know if she’s lying!”
  1377. >He gags.
  1378. >>”I’ll pass.”
  1379. >His denial seems to shatter her resolve, the simple fact that some stallions won’t do anything for money seemingly shaking her to her core.
  1380. >You can practically see her mental points dropping down to ten!
  1381. >Seeing as she’s distracted, you take the opportunity to take in the table with a clearer head.
  1382. >It seems while she was beating you down she managed to get another Black Lotus out, which makes four.
  1383. >Less than ideal, but you can work with that.
  1384. >Especially since you managed to summon a second submariner, only one more and you can sacrifice the three to pull the submarine out of your deck and play it.
  1385. >She’s been cockily letting your construct's life every turn, something that’s going to bite her hard soon.
  1386. >Especially since it's your turn, /and/ you just drew another submariner!
  1387. “Well, if you’re done, I’ll just tap three production and summon another submariner.”
  1388. >As you put the card on the table you can’t help but admire the art on this one too.
  1389. >F-For purely aesthetic reasons of course!
  1390. >You can really see every curve of the depicted stallion in his skin tight wetsuit.
  1391. >The outline of all his finely honed muscles...
  1392. >I-It must have taken quite an artist to paint!
  1393. >Looking up from the table, you see Monopoly is glowering at you, teeth gritted in anger.
  1394. >”Don’t think I don’t know what you’re trying. Go ahead. It won’t save you from my deck!”
  1395. >Your eyes widen a bit in surprise.
  1396. >Does that mean she’s given up on attacking you personally and is only going to attack your deck?
  1397. >Ahahaha, well she’s in for a rude awakening then!
  1398. “Well, if you insist!”
  1399. >Moving the three submariners to exile, you page through your deck until you find the card you’re looking for.
  1400. >The Nuclear Submarine!
  1401. >With eight attack, eight defense, and its special ability ‘Mmmm, Bombs!’ this card’s a real powerhouse!
  1402. >And in-lore staffed exclusively by stallions in skin-tight suits! [spoiler]How lewd...[/spoiler]
  1403. >Unfortunately, this isn’t a construct you can attack with after you’ve just summoned it, so you’ll have to wait until next turn.
  1404. “And I’ll attack with my Salacious Combat Diver!”
  1405. >Monopoly grumbles, simply taking the damage.
  1406. >Yes!
  1407. >Although you’re still not on track to kill her before she gets her lotuses out.
  1408. >Buck.
  1409. >Luckily a new avenue of victory has just opened up to you, psychological victory.
  1410. >”You done?” she practically spits.
  1411. >Seeing as you actually can’t do anything else, you’d say you are.
  1412. >You nod affirmatively, and she wastes no time drawing her next card.
  1413. >The sight of which makes her curse under her breath.
  1414. >Yes! Must not be a lotus.
  1415. >Okay, maybe you can beat her in game after all!
  1416. >”I’ll tap one of my lotuses to play ‘Database Search’.”
  1417. >Rats!
  1418. >That’s a program that lets her take three cards off the top of her deck and add one of them to her hoof, while the other two are discarded.
  1419. >And judging by the sheer frequency she’s been drawing lotuses, you’d bet there’ll be at least one among those three cards.
  1420. >Hmmm, maybe you ought to consider the program in your hoof.
  1421. >It’s an ‘instant’ which means you could potentially play it, even though it's not your turn.
  1422. >Disruptive Virus, it immediately cancels out any program being played.
  1423. >Which would stop Monopoly right here, potentially buying you another turn to hit her.
  1424. >But, something’s telling you to wait.
  1425. >Something deeper than your instincts.
  1426. >Is this what Silken called ‘the heart of the cards?’
  1427. >Sure, playing it right now would be the safe option.
  1428. >But... BUT!
  1429. >You’re feeling a little bold, confident even!
  1430. >So you think you’ll hold on to it, for the moment.
  1431. >Looking up from the card, you see that while you were thinking Monopoly was able to get another Black Lotus out.
  1432. >Hm, expected. Disappointing, but expected.
  1433. >”You’re running out of time, Paste. One more and this game is over.”
  1434. >Hmm, she’s right.
  1435. >You need to step up your game.
  1436. >Play it cool, come on.
  1437. “Y-Yeah, and?”
  1438. >Come on, buy iiiiiiiit...!
  1439. >Your heart soars as she sputters.
  1440. >”What do you mean ‘and’!?”
  1441. >Yes, score!
  1442. “I mean, what’s it matter if I lose?”
  1443. >This is, of course, a lie.
  1444. >You want to win.
  1445. >You really, REALLY want to win.
  1446. >However, obviously she wants to win too.
  1447. >So what better way to get under her skin than to act like winning doesn’t even matter?
  1448. “It’ll just free up my evening. Let my herd and I get to b-bed faster.”
  1449. >The mare across from you looks utterly stupefied.
  1450. >”What? Weren’t you listening to your own coltfriend!? He said he’d only buck you if you won!”
  1451. >...
  1452. >It starts as a simple snicker.
  1453. >But before you know it, you’ve burst into genuine hysterics.
  1454. “Oh hahahaha! You think... ehehe, you/actually/ think...!”
  1455. >Oh Celestia, you’re in tears!
  1456. >If this keeps up you’ll fall right out of your chair!
  1457. >”What’s so funny!?”
  1458. >This is too much!
  1459. >You nearly drop your cards as the spasms of laughter wrack your body.
  1460. “Hahaha! Oh hooo. Oh you do /not/ know Anon.”
  1461. >”But I know stallions!” she cries, “They’ll take any chance they can get to not put out!”
  1462.  
  1463.  
  1464. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and you are nearly on the floor.
  1465. >Cut’s been put in a similar state, the combined sounds of your laughter nearly drowning out every other sound in the room.
  1466. >”Oh come on,” Anon says while mildly miffed, “Am I really /that/ horny?”
  1467. >Oh Luna, don’t say it, don’t say it!
  1468. >Wait, Anon’s not a natural unicorn, he won’t mind!
  1469. “I don’t know, Anon, maybe you should check your forehead!”
  1470. >He’s confused for a moment, reaching up a hoof to check his forehead.
  1471. >A hoof which, predictably, bumps into his horn.
  1472. >”Pfffft hahaha! Okay, that was pretty good.”
  1473. >Yes! Lick your clit, equestrian resources!
  1474. >Horn jokes do NOT make unicorns feel "excluded."
  1475. >You let yourself have another short laugh, before you answer his question for real.
  1476. “But honestly, you are inequinly horny. For a stallion at least.”
  1477. >Reaching up, you give his shoulder a little bop with your hoof.
  1478. “You would have been an /animal/ during heat season.”
  1479. >He snorts.
  1480. >”Ha! I wouldn’t know. Luna insisted I spend it in the highest room of the tallest tower in order to ‘preserve my innocence’, or whatever. Weirdo.”
  1481. >Tsk tsk tsk, how ungrateful! And such disrespect to boot!
  1482. >Anon has no idea what horrible fate he was spared thanks to Princess Luna’s stalwart devotion to chivalry!
  1483. >And Princess Luna likewise has no idea how many guards she probably kept off of maternity leave.
  1484. >Stars, what a logistical nightmare that would have been.
  1485. >Might have even convinced the Princesses to finally repeal that dumb policy.
  1486. >Hey, speaking of royals, that reminds you.
  1487. >That white pony who called out earlier, you noticed they seemed particularly interested in Anon.
  1488. >They didn’t take their eyes off him for quite awhile, even after he left Cut’s side.
  1489. >Makes you think their interest in him went a touch beyond preserving the rules.
  1490. >And, turning your head towards them, you see that they’re already back to looking Anon’s way.
  1491. >You do not like that.
  1492. >”Although, I guess I can’t complain too much. You ever been up there? That ‘room’ is like an entire house. It's got a library, a hot tub, /and/— ”
  1493. >Poking him in the shin to cut him off, you point your hoof toward the mysterious pony.
  1494. “Hey, check the dude in the cloak.”
  1495. >Following your hoof, he sees that pony, still brazenly watching him.
  1496. >Holy Luna, they’re not even going to look away while Anon’s staring right at them?
  1497. >Bold.
  1498. >”Ugh, weird. Probably just an admirer I gue—”
  1499. >He cuts himself off mid-sentence, some realization hitting him.
  1500. >”Wait, you said “dude.” You think that’s a /stallion/ over there?”
  1501. >You cock your eyebrow, surprised that /that’s/ what he’s choosing to focus on.
  1502. “Uh, yeah? Look at that get up. It's so... framboyant and dramatic. And the way that enchantment made his voice boom? No mare would do that.”
  1503. >Borderline mocking disbelief is written all over Anon’s face.
  1504. >He gestures across the room with his hoof.
  1505. >”Pike, I want you to take a good look around this room. Then look me in the eyes and say that again.”
  1506. >You roll your eyes at him, but do as he asks nonetheless.
  1507. >Hmmmm.
  1508. >As you look around, nothing immediately strikes you as whatever he wants you to see.
  1509. >It's mostly just what you’d expect.
  1510. >A buncha’ freakin NERDS!
  1511. >The room is packed to the walls with over a dozen mares of every tribe.
  1512. >They’re all bickering, shouting, you even think you spot one crying!
  1513. >But you didn’t need to see that for yourself, you could have /guessed/ that.
  1514. >Ironically, it's only when you look back at Cut’s table that you realize what he wanted you to see.
  1515. >It's the mare across from Cut!
  1516. >She’s wearing something just as dumb!
  1517. >Realizing exactly what you were missing, you look around the room again, this time with fresh eyes.
  1518. >And /at least/ half of them are dressed in things just as ridiculous!
  1519. >Sure, none as overtly bombastic as the ‘grandmaster’s’ attire, but strange nonetheless.
  1520. >How didn’t you notice this before?
  1521. >You suppose... maybe you didn’t /want/ to see it.
  1522. >”Now, can you really tell me that there’s no way that there’s a mare under that hood?”
  1523. >You really can’t.
  1524. >Furthermore, now that you’re really thinking about it, Cut would be more than happy to cavort around in something like that.
  1525. >Hm, something to think about you suppose.
  1526. “Yeah, yeah. You’re right.”
  1527. >Grabbing Cut’s bra off his head, he doffs it as he smugly lowers himself to be eye level with you.
  1528. >”Thank you.”
  1529. >Straightening himself back out and putting the bra back on his head, he casts a brief look over to the pony in question once more.
  1530. >He seems to hesitate for a moment, eyes trailing the distance between the hooded pony and yourselves.
  1531. >Once he seemed confident the mystery pony was out of earshot (they’re nearly on the other side of the room, after all), he speaks.
  1532. >”Although, assuming that’s their actual coat color, you could still be right. Going off their build at least.”
  1533. >Oh! Actually you hadn’t even considered that.
  1534. >But the pony is a white coated unicorn, which in Canterlot almost always means one thing.
  1535. “You think that’s a noble over there?”
  1536. >He shrugs.
  1537. >”I think it’s a definite possibility. Cut was saying that some rich bitch was the one bankrolling the tournament.”
  1538. >Hm, yeah, the more you think about it, the more plausible it seems.
  1539. “They do have that tall, lithe build nobles love so much.”
  1540. >Nudging him in the leg, you grinned wildly.
  1541. “You’re still taller though!”
  1542. >Your statement makes him snort as a few chuckles escape him.
  1543. >”Oh God, that just reminds of this dude who always hung around with Celestia. He kept telling me how I needed to work out less, since...”
  1544. >His voice raises in pitch as he does what you believe to be a fairly accurate impression of Blueblood.
  1545. >”...You look like you could be a common Earth Pony! You’ll never catch the eye of a mare of the court, looking like that!”
  1546. >The impression nearly makes you burst out laughing.
  1547. >You can totally see him saying that!
  1548. “Well, glad you ignored him!”
  1549. >He affectionately bumps you, mirroring the one you gave him.
  1550. >”Me too. I wasn’t interested in ‘mares of the court’ anyway.”
  1551. >He shudders a bit.
  1552. >”The one time I actually started talking to one, she almost had an aneurysm because I didn’t recognize any of the names on the pedigree she whipped out.”
  1553. >Ha! Sounds like a noble.
  1554. >Just as you’re about to share your own story about the time you met up with a duke, a shrill sound catches your ear.
  1555. >>”LIAR!”
  1556. >Oooh, it's coming from Cut’s table, and it's not Cut!
  1557. “Hey, speaking on aneurysms, check the mare across from Cut.”
  1558.  
  1559. >You are Cut N. Paste, and you are undoubtedly winning!
  1560. “It's true! He came up to me at work and asked /me/ out.”
  1561. >You smile as she visibly recoils in disgust at the word “work”.
  1562. >”Eugh! You’re a wagie!? Just when I thought my respect for you couldn’t go any lower!”
  1563. >She drew her card awhile ago but hasn’t played any yet, this may be the perfect opportunity for a little turnabout!
  1564. >Trying to keep your cool, you stealthily reach for your own deck.
  1565. “But how’d you get all those lotuses if you don’t have a job?”
  1566. >She sneers, turning up her nose and looking away from you.
  1567. >Perfect, now's your chance!
  1568. >”Bah, I wouldn’t understand a wagie like you to understand the NEET lifestyle.”
  1569. >Ha! If only she knew.
  1570. >You really need to give Aunt Jargon a big thank you hug for pulling you out of that life the next time you see her.
  1571. >But right now, you could give this mare a hug for giving her turn away!
  1572. >Sliding the card off the deck, you add it to your hoof.
  1573. >She didn’t even notice!
  1574. “Well, I guess being chief editor of a newspaper is pretty far from a NEET.”
  1575. >Placing down another factory, you smile.
  1576. “And by the way, I tap four of my factories to use the nuclear sub’s special move!”
  1577. >It costs almost all of your production, but it's worth it.
  1578. >Five damage straight to her and three to the constructs on her field!
  1579. >Unless she’s got a program to block it, of course.
  1580. >”WHAT!?” she shouts, “But it's not your turn!”
  1581. >Oh, what did she say earlier?
  1582. “You didn’t even flinch when I drew and played my most recent factory, so I thought you were done with your turn.”
  1583. >You can see the burning anger in your opponent’s eyes as she stares you down.
  1584. >”Why you little...”
  1585. >Hey! You’re just copying her bit.
  1586. >The least she could do is be a good sportsmare about that.
  1587. >Suddenly, and very unnervingly, she does a complete one-eighty.
  1588. >In an instant all that anger is suddenly replaced with a smile.
  1589. >A smile that leaves you deeply unsettled.
  1590. >”You know what? I’ll just take it!”
  1591. >Sweeping her hoof across her side of the table, she knocks all the constructs she’d played right off the side.
  1592. >”I don’t need these!”
  1593. >Surprisingly she does the same to her health counter.
  1594. “Hey wait—”
  1595. >”I don’t need this either!”
  1596. >As it clatters to the ground, she slams her hooves on the table.
  1597. >”Are you /done/, Paste? Cuz now you’ll be DEAD!”
  1598. >You’re... feeling a lot less confident in your victory now.
  1599. >Even if the mare’s erratic behavior is implying she’s close to breaking.
  1600. >What the heck’s she got in her saddlebags?
  1601. “Uhhh, yeah? I guess I’m done...”
  1602. >Better leave the rest of your constructs to block, who knows what this mare is going to do.
  1603. >Not even bothering to reach for her deck, she slams a card down onto the table.
  1604. >”Then I play this! My sixth and final black lotus!”
  1605. >With all the flare of a madmare, she proceeds to spike all the rest of the cards in her hoof onto the ground.
  1606. >Well, all except for the one she just slammed onto the table.
  1607. >”Which lets me play this! Blot out the sky!”
  1608. >Tapping all of her black lotuses, she lets out an unhinged laugh.
  1609. >”Those six lotuses are worth twenty production, Paste! You know what that means!? This program gives me twenty 2/1 constructs, with flying, and everything on your side of the board DIES!”
  1610. >WHAT!?
  1611. >Any worries you had are immediately washed away by white hot anger.
  1612. >Who’s this mare trying to fool?!
  1613. “Give me that!”
  1614. >You snach the card off her side of the table.
  1615. >You’ve used this card before, that’s NOT what it does.
  1616. >The summoning part is right, but it doesn’t kill all your constructs too!
  1617. “Where do you get off pulling such a blatant— ...lie?”
  1618. >You feel a pit form in your stomach.
  1619. >You know you’ve played with this card before, you know how it works.
  1620. >So why does it say exactly what she said!?
  1621. >”You’re probably thinking of the version that /isn’t/ a misprint,” she says, her voice dripping with satisfaction.
  1622. >Pucking the card away from your face, she lays it back down on her side of the table.
  1623. >”The one that says ‘destroy all non-factory, non-constructs’?”
  1624. >That’s the one.
  1625. >Wow, you’ve never even heard of this misprint.
  1626. >Hold on, there’s no way this mare bought these on a NEET allowance!
  1627. >Her parents must be more loaded than yours!
  1628. >”Any last words before I send you home with your ‘coltfriend’, PASTE!?”
  1629. >Wait, manure! This last push might actually wipe you out!
  1630. >Twenty 2/1 constructs is more than enough to kill you in a single turn.
  1631. >Especially if you don’t have any constructs that can also fly and therefore block.
  1632. >Buck buck BUCK!
  1633. >Well, Cut, it was a good run.
  1634. >But apparently even Cyber is pay to win.
  1635. >This blows.
  1636. >If only you had something that could cancel her program!
  1637. >Like Disruptive Virus or something...
  1638. >Wait a second.
  1639. >You have that card!
  1640. “In that case, I’ll tap the last of my production to play ‘Disruptive Virus’. So that goes straight to your junkyard.”
  1641. >Thank you, heart of the cards!
  1642. >The mare across from you freezes, shock still.
  1643. >”Huh?”
  1644. >Placing it in front of her, you tap it for emphasis.
  1645. “You know, the card that cancels any program that’s being played, sending it to your junkyard?”
  1646. >She continues to remain perfectly still, her face frozen in the triumph she thought she had.
  1647. >”Oh.”
  1648. >Without warning, the limb she was putting her weight on gives out.
  1649. >Before you can even flinch, she falls forward.
  1650. >On her way toward the ground, her head impacts the table with a loud BANG!
  1651. “SWEET CELESTIA!”
  1652. >>”Oh shit!” you hear Anon shout.
  1653. >Eventually she lands in a crumpled heap on the carpet, motionless.
  1654. >>>”Clear the way!”
  1655. >You hear Pike shout moments before she zips past your head.
  1656. >Watching her go, you see her pass right over the table before landing at Monopoly Money’s side.
  1657. >The mare’s eyes are white and unfocused, and you think you spy a little foam leaking from her mouth!
  1658. >Meanwhile, Pike is a flurry of movement as she wastes no time getting to work.
  1659. >Her hooves are all over the still mare, presumably checking her vitals.
  1660. >After rapidly poking and prodding her for a few moments, Pike shouts to the room.
  1661. >>>”MARE DOWN!”
  1662. >But no sooner have the words left her mouth than two mares and a stretcher are by Monopoly’s side.
  1663. >Without a word, the mares roughly roll poor Monopoly onto the stretcher.
  1664. >>>”Hey, you shouldn’t—”
  1665. >The two don’t even acknowledge her as they lift the stretcher and trot off with Monopoly Money supported between them.
  1666. >You sit there for a few moments in silence as you watch them go, unsure of what to think.
  1667. >You guess her entire strategy was building up to that card, and without it she just fell apart.
  1668. >Almost literally.
  1669. >Thankfully the sound of approaching hoofsteps snaps you out of your stupor.
  1670. >It’s Anon, come to join you and Pike at the table.
  1671. >>”Welp, uhhhh, looks like you kicked her butt!” he says awkwardly.
  1672. >>>>”Indeed!”
  1673. >The sudden fourth voice makes all three of you jump a little.
  1674. >Whipping your head towards the source of it, you recognize her as one of the mares who arbitrated the coin toss at the very beginning of the game.
  1675. >She apparently approached you from the other side while you were focusing on Anon.
  1676. >>>>”Congratulations, Fattest Teats in Canterlot! You’re going to advance to the next round!”
  1677. “Th-Thanks...”
  1678. >Anon clears his throat to get the mare’s attention.
  1679. >>”Hey, is that Monopoly mare gonna be okay?”
  1680. >The judge dismissively rolls her eyes.
  1681. >>>>”Of course /you’d/ ask that. This is a mare’s game, colt, that kind of thing happens all the time.”
  1682. >Both Pike and Anon raise one of their eyebrows and look at you for a second opinion.
  1683. >One which you gladly give!
  1684. “No it doesn’t,” you mouth.
  1685. >>>>The judge either doesn’t notice this or doesn’t care and continues, ”You should fuss over your fillyfriend instead. It's only going to get harder for her from here on out.”
  1686. >Without waiting for any kind of confirmation from you or him, the mare starts walking away.
  1687. >>>>”Take a break, your next game is in fifteen!”
  1688.  
  1689.  
  1690. >You are the eager Cut N. Paste.
  1691. >After your last match went so well, almost /too/ well, a certain giddiness started blossoming within you.
  1692. >Seeing that look on your opponent’s face after you perfectly countered her strategy...
  1693. >Watching all that trash she was talking literally come crashing down...
  1694. >It felt good.
  1695. >Really good.
  1696. >So good that for the last ten minutes you’ve just been standing here in front of the tournament bracket, waiting in anticipation to see who you’ll be battling next.
  1697. >Anon might just have been right about this!
  1698. >You are better than these mares, you can do this!
  1699. >Speaking of Anon though...
  1700. >”So, who’s next?” comes a familiar baritone voice to your left.
  1701. >Turning to look at the familiar green unicorn beside you, you answer.
  1702. “I don’t know, guess the other match hasn’t finished yet.”
  1703. >Turning back to the board you idly hmmm.
  1704. “They’d better hurry up, they’ve only got a few minutes left in the round.”
  1705. >Pike, who’s on the other side of Anon, speaks up.
  1706. >>”Looks like it’ll either be Broken Game or... The Squeaker?”
  1707. >You can see her lean out past him to look at you.
  1708. >>”Any idea what /that/ means?”
  1709. >You shrug.
  1710. “No clue.”
  1711. >You can hear Anon groan at the sight of the word ‘squeaker’, and as you look back toward him, you see he’s grimaced to an almost exaggerated degree.
  1712. >>”Something you want to share with the class, hon?”
  1713. >Relaxing his face just a tad, he grunts in annoyance.
  1714. >”Let’s just hope that’s not who Cut ends up facing next. God if that nickname means what I think it means, she’ll be /super annoying/.”
  1715. >As if on cue from his statement, a judge shuffles past you to cross out the name ‘Broken Game’ on the bracket.
  1716. >”Aw hell.”
  1717.  
  1718. >You’re still Cut N. Paste, and you can’t believe what you’re seeing.
  1719. >Awkwardly pulling the chair out from under the competition table, you take your seat across from...
  1720. >... a filly.
  1721. >A little earth pony filly.
  1722. >You couldn’t believe it when you first got in view of the table, and you can scarcely believe it now.
  1723. >How is she here?
  1724. >Where are her parents!?
  1725. >No answers are forthcoming though.
  1726. >As you struggle to comprehend the shocking sight, Anon’s words from when the three of you first laid eyes on your new opponent ring out through your head once more.
  1727. >’Alright, babe, this kid’s gonna come at you hard and fast. You better be ready to hit back just as hard.’
  1728. >You did not like how he seemed to be speaking from personal experience.
  1729. >Attempting to scootch your chair in, you wince as it makes an unfortunately loud “eeeeeerk” as it scrapes against the tiled floor.
  1730. >Thankfully, the filly seems too engrossed in pouring through her deck to even look up.
  1731. >Buck, you were never good with foals, this is going to suck.
  1732. >Putting the impending awkwardness out of your mind, you decide you ought to pick out your deck.
  1733. >Popping open your saddlebags, you take stock of the ones you brought.
  1734. >Hmmm, maybe your blue/black—
  1735. >”You better not even be THINKING of bringing a stupid-ass blue/black deck to face ME.”
  1736. >Your sheer shock at the pre-pubescent voice across from you nearly knocks you out of your chair.
  1737. >She doesn’t even have her cutie mark and she’s throwing out racial slurs!?
  1738. >She glances up from her deck to see your stunned expression.
  1739. >”Oh my bucking Celestia, you were weren’t you?! Are you bucking stupid?”
  1740. >Seems like Anon was right.
  1741. >”Just pick your stupid deck already fatass.”
  1742. >You're thankful that the sheer absurdity of the situation is currently protecting you from actually feeling any of these insults.
  1743. >Deciding just to go with the blue/black deck, after all, you stutter something out.
  1744. “Wh-where are your parents?”
  1745. >She sneers at you.
  1746. >”They’re at home BUCKING your Dad! Just like what I’m gonna do to that SLUT you brought after I beat you!”
  1747. >In that instant, something inside you changes.
  1748. “Excuse me?”
  1749.  
  1750. >You are Anonymous, and right now you’re feeling a sense of both deep pride, and a tinge of embarrassment.
  1751. >At this point the game between Cut and ‘The Squeaker’ should be well underway, but you’re pretty sure neither of them have drawn a single card.
  1752. >”HEY YOU TALL GREEN DICK! WHY DON’T YOU GET OVER HERE AND EAT ME OUT? DON’T YOU WANT TO BE WITH A REAL MARE?” you hear the child scream.
  1753. >Cut slams both her forehooves on the table.
  1754. >>”LISTEN HERE YOU SNOT-NOSED BRAT! YOU DON’T TALK TO MY COLTFRIEND LIKE THAT!”
  1755. >”OH YEAH? WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT IT YOU FAT SOYMILK COW?”
  1756. >You’re glad the conversation shifted to you so early, who knows if Cut would have been able to withstand it otherwise.
  1757. >>”HOW ABOUT YOU GO HOME AND GET BACK TO FAILING ALGEBRA!”
  1758. >”SHUT THE BUCK UP! MATH IS HARD! I BET YOU DROPPED OUT!”
  1759. >You can hear Pike’s hoof making an impact with her face.
  1760. >>>”Please tell me I’m hallucinating and Cut isn’t screaming at a middle schooler.”
  1761. >You chuckle.
  1762. “No can do!”
  1763.  
  1764. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and you’ll need to have a talk with Cut when this is all over.
  1765. >You’ve long admired the ferocity she’s been willing to defend Anon with, but this is getting a little ridiculous.
  1766. >This is a filly she’s screaming at! A filly!
  1767. >Sure, a terribly behaved filly, but come on!
  1768. >This is just hard to watch at this point.
  1769. >Looking away, you see with mounting horror that more or less every other game in the building has ground to a halt.
  1770. >All eyes are on Cut as she screams in abject fury.
  1771. >The sound of clattering cards brings your attention back to the mare.
  1772. >It seems she took the filly’s deck and scattered it all over the table.
  1773. >”GREEN/RED? GREEN-BUCKING-RED? THIS COMBO HAS BEEN NERFED INTO THE DIRT SINCE BEFORE YOU WERE BORN!”
  1774. >All you can do is sigh.
  1775. >Glancing at Anon, you’re troubled to find he’s growing more into it with each passing shout.
  1776. >>”YEAH! Tell her her parents think she’s a loser!” he cheers.
  1777. >What kind of experiences has he had that he’s cheering this on?
  1778. >He practically looks like he’s watching a boxing match!
  1779. >>”NOW HIT HER AGAIN!”
  1780. >What the buck, now he’s even /talking/ like it's a boxing match!
  1781. >Okay, looks like you’re going to need to have /two/ long talks later tonight.
  1782.  
  1783. >You are Anon, and the joyous high you were feeling while watching your fillyfriend trash that annoying brat, has given way to a deep, depressing, low.
  1784. >”S-See? I’m cucking you right now!” comes a muffled voice from your side.
  1785. >Cut did too good of a job fighting back against the kid, and before you knew it, the filly had broken down in tears.
  1786. >As the only male in the store, quite literally every head turned to you expecting you to comfort the crying child.
  1787. >You ignored them at first, but as the shrieking got louder, those looks eventually turned into the judges explicitly asking you to do it.
  1788. >You don’t know why you said yes.
  1789. >Now she’s buried herself in the fuzz of your thicker than average forehoof, and is balling her eyes out.
  1790. >”I’m the sigma mare here! Me!”
  1791. >Of course, even that’s not stopping her from belting out insults.
  1792. >Cut has thankfully elected to put herself at the other end of the room to cool off.
  1793. >You can tell she feels a little bad, but every word the filly speaks threatens to throw her into another fit of rage.
  1794. >”Y-You’re not even a beta mare! Y-you're just a gamma! Or even a delta!"
  1795. >Okay this is getting /really/ annoying.
  1796. “Look honey!” you call to Pike in your most patronizing tone, “She’s making up her own words! Isn’t that cute?”
  1797. >Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, your sarcasm is lost on the child.
  1798. >”S-See! *hic* He called me cute! Dad couldn’t have left Mom because of me!”
  1799. >God damn it, where the fuck ARE this kid’s parents!?
  1800. >Suddenly you catch one of the judges approaching you from the corner of your eye.
  1801. >Please be here to relieve you, please be here to relieve you.
  1802. >>”Thank Celestia you were here to give your paternal touch.” she says to you. “Your daughter has been so well behaved tonight that I knew you’d be the perfect pony for this.”
  1803. >Huh, your daughter?
  1804. >Wait, does she mean...?
  1805. >Oh boy, you love it when this happens!
  1806. “I don’t have a daughter.”
  1807. >The judge looks confused and falls right into your trap.
  1808. >>”Then why’s that bat filly—”
  1809. >>>”You do not want to finish that sentence,” you hear Pike growl.
  1810.  
  1811. >Your name is Stacked Deck, owner of the Board Game Barn, and you’re reaching the end of your rope.
  1812. >After that filly’s parents finally showed up, the mare who beat her and those two ponies hanging out with her found themselves with a lot of time to kill.
  1813. >Time they’ve decided to spend backseat gaming!
  1814. >”What about that card she just played?” asks the stallion.
  1815. >>”Ooooo, I wouldn’t have done that,” the fat mare replies.
  1816. >ARRRRRRG! They’ve been doing this nearly your whole game!
  1817. >Why’s that stallion even here!? You know he’s a fake gamer colt.
  1818. >He couldn’t even name /every/ board game when you asked him to!
  1819. >All you’re trying to do is pwn some n00bs, and you aren’t even allowed to do that without harassment in your /own store/!
  1820. >You’ve got some misandristic slurs you're going to drop if this keeps up...
  1821. >>”See, she /should/ have played that program just then. But she did the stupid thing and just ate the damage.”
  1822. >That’s it!
  1823. “JUDGE!” you shout to the appropriately named Judge, “Get these yahoos out of my store!”
  1824. >>>”And why would she do that?”
  1825. >The sudden intrusion causes every one of the gathered ponies to jump.
  1826. >Whipping your head around, you find that the Grandmaster herself somehow approached your left without a single other pony noticing.
  1827. >”When the fuck did she get there?” the stallion asks.
  1828. >Either unbothered or oblivious to the shock her sudden appearance caused, she proceeds to lean in uncomfortably close.
  1829. >All you can see are those enchanted eyes, but you can somehow still tell she’s sneering at you.
  1830. >>>”What are you, some kind of bastard?”
  1831. >The sheer aura of this mare is doing wonders to intimidate you.
  1832. >Also the fact she funds 90% of the events your store hosts.
  1833. >>>”I set up this tournament to have NO rules. But what are you trying to do?”
  1834. >You don't answer at first, thinking it was a rhetorical question, but after a few awkward moments it becomes apparent she’s waiting on you.
  1835. “E-Enforce a rule.”
  1836. >She ‘mmm hmmm’s, before immediately turning toward the stallion.
  1837. >Clearly already done with you, she doesn't even glance back your way as she speaks once more.
  1838. >>>”Need I say more?”
  1839.  
  1840. >You are Anonymous the unicorn, and you’re still freaking out a little.
  1841. >She had to have teleported right?
  1842. >There’s no other way the “grandmaster” would have been able to appear without anyone noticing, right?
  1843. >But you shouldn’t focus on that, you’ve got more pressing concerns.
  1844. >It seems that, after staring down that bitch, she’s switched to staring down Cut.
  1845. >”Win your games, Paste. Get strong.”
  1846. >Cut, obviously unsure of what to say, just blinks owlishly at the mare.
  1847. >>”Um, sure. Will do.”
  1848. >Seemingly satisfied, the mare turns her gaze toward you now.
  1849. >She looks almost... disappointed?
  1850. >”And I see /you/ still aren’t wearing that make-up I got you.”
  1851. >...
  1852. >Huh?
  1853. >Pike and Cut both look to you for some sort of explanation, but you can only shrug back at them.
  1854. “I’m... sorry?”
  1855. >”I’m not mad,” Her magically altered voice nearly cuts you off, “It was only some of the finest imported Saddle Arabian make-up, and it /only/ cost me several hundred bits. I’m not mad you never used it though. Nope.”
  1856. >Okay, what the actual fuck is going on here?
  1857. >This is some major passive aggression this mare is putting out.
  1858. >It's so much that you can feel yourself instinctively leaning back in your chair, trying to put some distance between you and her.
  1859. >Thankfully, your knight in amethyst armor is there to save the day.
  1860. >>>”That’s it!” you hear Pike shout.
  1861. >With all the speed of a trained Thestral, she leaps off her chair and flies right in between you and the grandmaster, thankfully cutting off her view of you.
  1862. >>>”I’ve seen you eyeballing my colt all night!”
  1863. >Hovering in place, she jabs the mare right in the chest.
  1864. >>>”Just who the buck do you think you are? No, better, who the buck are you?”
  1865. >You just barely catch the mystery mare say ‘you dare,’ under her breath before clearing her throat.
  1866. >”*Ahem* Well, I certainly never took you for the janefilly type...SERGEANT PIKE!”
  1867. >”WHAT?” you, Pike, and Cut all shout simultaneously.
  1868. >Before the grandmaster can elaborate, or more likely so she wouldn’t have to, a smoke bomb goes off.
  1869. >All the ponies in the general vicinity are caught off guard, crying out and descending into pained coughs as the cheap costume-shop smoke fills their lungs.
  1870. >After a few moments though, you crack your weeping eyes open just enough to catch sight of the grandmaster fleeing behind a curtain that had been hung up next to the tournament bracket.
  1871. >You had just assumed that was for decoration, but the fact she was able to disappear behind it, means it must lead somewhere.
  1872. >>>”What the *cough cough* buck! What a bucking flankhole!” Pike yells in between coughs.
  1873. >She turns to Cut, who’s nearly thrown herself out of her chair in an attempt to escape the smoke’s radius.
  1874. >>>”We ought to teach her a lesson once you get to the top!”
  1875. >>>>”Oh sweet Celestia, SOMEONE SHUT OFF THE SPRINKLER SYSTEM BEFORE IT GOES OFF!” you hear the store owner scream.
  1876. >”Already did!” the muffled voice of the grandmaster replies from behind the curtain.
  1877.  
  1878. >“And as you can see, if I exile this program I can then play this other program to return it to my hoof. After that I’ll tap these two factories to play it again, draining you for another two life...”
  1879. >You are Cut N. Paste, and it’s the first turn.
  1880. >Either this mare got the luckiest first draw ever, or she’s a master at slight of hoof.
  1881. >You haven’t been able to even play your first card, and her combo has already drained you for six life.
  1882. >You hate decks like this, but luckily the mare’s almost perfectly clean-cut appearance clued you in to this possibility, so you’ve brought an equally unfun deck to bear.
  1883. >If only it would be your turn already!
  1884. >”And since this card untaps my factory again I think I’ll—”
  1885. >>”Oh, Anon, not here!”
  1886. >The voice stops both you and your opponent’s trains of thought in their tracks.
  1887. >It's Pike, her voice noticeably huskier.
  1888. >>>”But honey,” Anon replies, “what sort of stallion would I be if I didn’t attend to such a luxurious tuft anytime, anywhere?”
  1889. >Oh no.
  1890. >Turning your head slowly to look behind you, you see Anon and Pike are trying a new bit to throw your opponent off her game.
  1891. >They’re sitting in just the perfect position that any time your opponent looks up at you, she won’t be able to avoid seeing a sordid scene.
  1892. >That scene?
  1893. >Anon grooming Pike’s tuft in the middle of the store.
  1894. >>”Well, if you insist.”
  1895. >Anon, in an admittedly impressive display of magical prowess, forms one of his hands into a magically constructed tuftbrush and begins running it through Pike’s tuft.
  1896. >>”My my, how do you keep it so soft?”
  1897. >Tearing your eyes away from the scene you see it's already working wonders on your opponent.
  1898. >She’s completely forgotten about her cards, instead, she’s glancing between Pike’s tuft and her own, all the while letting out pained groans of inadequacy.
  1899. >She’s completely enthralled by the show, unable to play a single card.
  1900. >Unfortunately, you are too.
  1901. >You feel your head turning, almost unconsciously, back towards your herd.
  1902. >Seeing Anon run that brush through such decadent fuzz...
  1903. >H-How come he’s the only one who gets to shove his face into it...?
  1904. >What?! N-NO! Bad dyke thoughts!
  1905. >Ripping your head back to the game, you realize that if you play fast enough, maybe the dyke thoughts can’t catch you!
  1906. “I play a black factory and a 1/1 Trashy Cyborg!”
  1907. >Your shout breaks the spell on your opponent too.
  1908. >Who, based on the look on her face, may be in the same boat as you.
  1909. >Unfortunately for her, her whole deck is about taking her time!
  1910. >”I play a blue factory and uh, uh, end my turn!”
  1911. >As fast as you can, you practically tear the top card from your deck.
  1912. >Oh, perfect!
  1913. “I tap my factory to play this Company Mandate that makes all your blue factories black for the rest of the game!”
  1914. >>”BUCK!”
  1915.  
  1916. >You are Cut N. Paste, and you’re feeling pretty great right now.
  1917. >That last card apparently hard countered your last opponent so well that she was forced to give up on the spot!
  1918. >Sucks to be a mono-blllllllllllue!
  1919. >As a bonus, you beat her so fast that you were able to escape your dyke thoughts!
  1920. >Nope, no lingering desire to shove your face into Pike’s tuft here! You are a straight mare!
  1921. >A straight mare who’s in the semifinals!
  1922. >Only one more game and you’ll be against the grandmaster!
  1923. >Seeing as how the pony the grandmaster /was/ supposed to go up against in the semi-finals fled the store in fear.
  1924. >Just like all the previous ones.
  1925. >But, you’ll cross that bridge once you defeat...
  1926. >Xebony Darknessx?
  1927. >You squint at the nametag for a moment, before the mare herself takes the seat across from you.
  1928. >As she does, it all becomes perfectly clear.
  1929. >Before you is a lanky Thestral mare, so caked in LARP paint (it's NOT makeup) and fur dye that you couldn't even begin to guess what her natural colors were.
  1930. >As it stands, she’s an indescribable mish-mash of white, black, and red.
  1931. >Not a moment of color theory or panning went into her look, and it's obvious why.
  1932. >She’s dressed as a Queendom Hearts OC.
  1933. >With all the flourish of somepony who’s read too much manga, she practically slams her deck onto the table face up, proud to show her theme.
  1934. >Based on the fact the card is a black construct that requires no less than five black productions, you’re betting every card in that deck is black.
  1935. >”As the 15th member of Organization 13,” Xebony shouts, “I will use the power of darkness to defeat you!”
  1936. >You can hear Anon do a spit take from behind you when he hears ‘Organization 13’.
  1937. >Impressive, considering you don’t think he was drinking anything.
  1938. >Hmmm, the best counter to a mono-black deck then is probably a blue/red aggro...
  1939. >No, you won’t just play whatever deck best counters hers.
  1940. >You don’t need to.
  1941. >Reaching into your saddlebag, you pull out the perfect deck.
  1942. “Everypony knows Dream Drop Distance sucked.”
  1943. >Dramatically slamming your deck onto the table the same way she did, you reveal your deck’s theme.
  1944. >Colorless production.
  1945. “Real Organization 13 members use nothingness.”
  1946. >Xebony gasps.
  1947. >”How dare you! That series was great! I’ll defeat you in the name of Master NoHeart!”
  1948. >Already anticipating the looks they’ll have on their faces, you look over your shoulder at Anon and Pike who’ve taken their places behind you.
  1949. >Anon, expectedly, looks like he’s only barely holding in his laughter, Pike meanwhile looks deeply disturbed.
  1950. “Sit this one out, you two. I’ve got this.”
  1951.  
  1952. >”PATHETIC! Nothingness! Is! Eternal!”
  1953. >You are Anonymous, and you’re happy for Cut, you really are.
  1954. >She’s really gotten into her semi-finals game.
  1955. >From what you can gather, Kingdom Hearts truly is the autism that transcends all dimensions.
  1956. >How fitting.
  1957. >>”Wrong! All things begin in darkness!” Shouts the mare wearing a pound of make-up, “And all so end! Including your behemoth!”
  1958. >You hear Pike sigh for the umpteenth time tonight from beside you.
  1959. >>>”I honestly can’t tell if this is worse than when she was screaming at the filly.”
  1960. >You chuckle and nudge her with your elbow.
  1961. ”Cut her some slack, it's charming!”
  1962. >A statement that for /some reason/ makes her roll her eyes.
  1963. “Hey!”
  1964. >>>”You said the same thing about me blearily echolocating the bathroom at five AM.”
  1965. >Harrumphing, you turn away from her in faux-indignation.
  1966. “And it was! In fact, I’d have even called it...”
  1967. >Cracking a smile, you look back at her without turning her head.
  1968. “.../Cute/.”
  1969. >In a moment she’s leaped to her hooves, already gesticulating wildly.
  1970. >>”HEY! My tribe did NOT spend the past several millennia magically honing our senses to hunt monsters at maximum efficiency for you to call it CUTE!”
  1971. “I dunnoooo~ooooo!” you playfully reply, “I bet Cut would call it cute too.”
  1972. >Now it's Pike’s turn to harrumph and playfully look away.
  1973. >>>”As if, she understands the sis code! She’d never!”
  1974.  
  1975. >”NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
  1976. >You are Cut N. Paste, and you’ve just struck the killing blow!
  1977. >Standing up on your chair, you throw your hoof toward your opponent and cry out in triumph.
  1978. “YES! Without anything to block my flying golems, your life points drop to ZERO!”
  1979. >With a commitment to the bit that impresses even you, the mare throws herself out of her chair and onto the floor with a painful thud.
  1980. >Once on the ground, she poses dramatically.
  1981. >Putting one hoof over her heart, she desperately reaches the other out in front of her.
  1982. >”Impossible! Queendom Hearts, fill me with the power of darkness!” she cries with all the finality of a dying mare.
  1983. >Holding the pose for just a moment more, she then goes limp with a “bleh”.
  1984. >Almost simultaneously, you feel the adrenaline leave your body, and you limply fall back onto your chair.
  1985. >Now that it's gone, you realize you were panting!
  1986. >Mare, that was intense.
  1987. >You’re honestly a little surprised you won that.
  1988. >Colorless decks are really hard to run.
  1989. >But, you did it!
  1990. >All on your own, without Pike or Anon helping out!
  1991. >Speaking of, the feeling of Anon’s hoof on your shoulder informs you they’ve left their seats to join your side.
  1992. >>”Bravo, bravo!” Anon says as he comes into view, “I wish I brought my camera.”
  1993. >Despite yourself, you blush with pride (and a bit of embarrassment).
  1994. >Normally, letting your coltfriend see you act out a Queendom Hearts RP through a card game would be unthinkable.
  1995. >But when Anon’s your coltfriend...
  1996. >>>”See, we told you you could do it!” Pike chimes in as she comes around to your other side.
  1997. >Giving you a playful punch in the shoulder and a smile, she continues, “That was the semifinals too. So she wasn’t going easy on you!”
  1998. >With a surprise boop, Anon pulls your attention back to him.
  1999. >>”Don’t think you’re getting out of showing me all that scott-free though. I am absolutely going to make you do a Kingdom Hearts sex RP one of these nights and I /will/ be laughing my flanks off the entire time.”
  2000. >Okay, you know your pupils have turned into hearts now.
  2001. >What could you possibly have done to deserve this colt?
  2002. “As long as you’re Karl and I get to be Sukai. Oh! And-and Pike can be Rikku!”
  2003. >You can hear Pike groan.
  2004. >>>”I’ll sit that one out. Thank you very much.”
  2005. >Her reaction makes Anon smile like Discord himself.
  2006. >>”You sure, hon? Don’t you want to rave about the power of darkness while I ‘battle’ you with my ‘keyblade’?”
  2007. >You turn back toward Pike, trying to gauge her reaction.
  2008. >What starts as a steadfast frown, slowly turns around at the thought of trying to ‘conquer’ the two of you with ‘darkness’.
  2009. >>>”Okay, maybe.”
  2010. “Yes!” you quietly cheer.
  2011. >>>>”If you three are quite done discussing your freaky sex plans...” a sudden fourth voice interrupts.
  2012. >Almost in sync, the three of you swivel your heads toward the source, one of the judges who approached while all of you were distracted.
  2013. >>>>”...then the Grandmaster awaits you in her chambers.”
  2014. >The mare gestures with her hoof toward the curtain, which now seems so much more imposing and imperious than it did before.
  2015. “*Gulp*”
  2016. >This mare has managed to terrify this whole room of flankholes into running in fear at the mere thought of playing against her.
  2017. >What does she do?
  2018. >Sure you’ve been doing great so far, but can you really measure up to that?
  2019. >While these questions bother you, they certainly don’t seem to be bothering your companions.
  2020. >>”Fuck yeah, I’m still mad about that smoke bomb from earlier. Let’s kill this cunt!”
  2021. >>>”Anon you can’t say that!”
  2022.  
  2023.  
  2024. >You are Cut N. Paste with a heart full of fear.
  2025. >As you and your herdmates step past the curtain, you’re met with a disconcerting sight.
  2026. >An honest to Celestia throne room.
  2027. >Whatever this room used to be used for before, it has been totally converted toward its new purpose.
  2028. >The lights that were once built into the ceiling have been straight-up torn out, leaving novelty crystal torches lining the wall as the room’s only source of light.
  2029. >This gives the place a dim, dungeon-like ambiance that would be really cool if not for the fact it belonged to a mad mare.
  2030. >The center of the room itself is taken up by a massive game table that you’re almost positive no mare in the building could move, even if they were working together.
  2031. >It's thick, wooden, and covered in ornate carvings of unicorns playing cards.
  2032. >How rich is this mare?
  2033. >That thing must have cost a fortune!
  2034. >Speaking of fortunes, the grandmaster, no, the Grandmaster herself is seated on a beautiful throne that’s been given its own raised platform.
  2035. >Like the table, it's made of solid wood, inlaid with gold trimming that makes a beautiful pattern which reminds you of the pattern that was printed along the edges of old Cyber cards.
  2036. >Dang, you wish you had that kind of money!
  2037. >”Welcome! Welcome, Cut N. Paste!” the Grandmaster’s voice suddenly rings out.
  2038. >Stepping off her throne, she struts down the steps to the floor and begins approaching the three of you.
  2039. >”I had hoped you’d be the one to take my challenge tonight.”
  2040. >A white hoof juts out from under her flowing robe, gesturing to the game table.
  2041. >”I hope you’re prepared. For tonight you shall face a master in the game my ancestors have been dominating since—”
  2042. >Suddenly, the Grandmaster’s monologue is cut off by the sound of the curtain fluttering and a familiar voice.
  2043. >>”Honey? Sorry I’m late, but I picked up some of those cookies you really like as an apology.”
  2044. >Almost as one, you, Pike, and Anon all turn to look at the newcomer.
  2045. >Awkwardly standing halfway through the curtain with a tupperware on her back is none other than the most recent addition to Pike’s squad, Rook.
  2046. >>”Oh! Uh, hi, Sarge! Didn’t expect to see you here.”
  2047. >Pike stands there confused for a moment, before something seems to click.
  2048. >>>”Wait a second,” Pike says, “If you’re calling this grandmaster ‘honey’ that means...”
  2049. >She suddenly whips around, pointing an accusatory hoof at the cloaked mare.
  2050. >>>”YOU’RE PRINCE BLUEBLOOD!?” she shouts in surprise.
  2051. “WHAT!?”
  2052.  
  2053.  
  2054. “YOU!?”
  2055. >You are Anonymous the unicorn and you can scarcely believe what you just heard.
  2056. >No, in fact, you don’t believe it.
  2057. >The “mare” who’s been running everyone who comes to this tournament ragged, is actually Blueblood!?
  2058. >That’s—
  2059. >Actually, that would be completely on-brand for him.
  2060. >Also completely on-brand for Blueblood, is the reaction the grandmaster gives toward Rook’s intrusion.
  2061. >”Baaaaaaaaaaabe!” a familiarly whiny voice rings out.
  2062. >Lighting what you're now certain is HIS horn, the grandmaster tosses aside his cloak in one swift motion.
  2063. >Revealing himself to truly be none other than the nephew of Princess Celestia, Prince Blueblood.
  2064. >”You ruined my dramatic reveaaaaaaaal!”
  2065. >Wow, talk about a blast from the past.
  2066. >Before you could even blink, Rook’s crossed the room to be by his side.
  2067. >>”Aw, geez, I’m sorry dear. I just didn’t expect somepony else to actually be back here this time.”
  2068. >His horn is surrounded by a golden glow, one that rapidly spreads to the tupperware’s lid.
  2069. >”It's fine, it's fine,” he says, “Just let me have one of those cookies.”
  2070. >A similarly glowing cookie shoots out of the tupperware towards him and stops just close enough to his face that he easily takes a bite.
  2071. >”But only let me have one!” he mumbles through a mouthful, “I don’t want to ruin my princely figure!”
  2072. >The living cliche makes you roll your eyes.
  2073. >Jesus, no wonder you never wanted to hang out with him.
  2074. “Long time no see.”
  2075. >He holds up a hoof, probably intending to indicate for you to wait until he’s done with his treat.
  2076. >Upon scarfing the final bite down, he pulls out an honest-to-God embroidered silk handkerchief to wipe any errant crumbs off his mouth.
  2077. >Pompous doesn’t even cut it, fuckin’ hell.
  2078. >As soon as that handkerchief is put away, however, he does a complete 180.
  2079. >”/I’ll/ say!” he shouts, “You only came to Marg Monday ONCE!”
  2080. >The accusation in his tone catches you off guard.
  2081. >You hadn’t even expected him to remember inviting you, period, much less routinely.
  2082. “Well the one time I went, you all wouldn’t stop giving me that freaky ‘advice’!”
  2083. >Hm, your voice sounded a little more defensive than you had meant it to.
  2084. >Blueblood, meanwhile, looks downright aghast.
  2085. >”Freaky!?”
  2086. >God, it's all coming back to you now.
  2087. >Probably makes the top ten most uncomfortable times in your life.
  2088. >Without even realizing it, you slip back into your mocking noble impression as you recount some of the highlights for the gathered ponies.
  2089. ”‘Oh why don’t you put on a little eyeliner!’ ‘Oh, here’s the crash dieting plan I use, mares would pay a lot more attention to you if you lost some of that muscle mass.’ ‘You really ought to let my stylist put some highlights in your flank fur, it would make your cutie mark pop!’”
  2090. >By the time you’re done Pike is in hysterics, with Cut looking like she’s not far behind.
  2091. >Rook’s admittedly not far behind either, but she’s trying a /lot/ harder to hide it than Cut is.
  2092. >Smart move, considering Blueblood does not look like he appreciated that.
  2093. >”*Hurrumph* Well, everything we said was true.”
  2094. >Ha! /Obviously/ not!
  2095. >Last you checked, you’re going just fine without dyeing your flank!
  2096. >Before you can point that out though, Blueblood softens his face and he beats you to the punch.
  2097. >”But, you /do/ seem to be getting along just fine without our tips.”
  2098. >>>”I don’t know, hun,” Pike coyly cuts in, “/I/ certainly wouldn’t mind some highlights on that flank of yours. Maybe some purple stripes to match those socks?”
  2099. >”See!” Blueblood shouts, “Even your /mare/ agrees!”
  2100. >You roll your eyes.
  2101. “Gee honey, thanks for encouraging him.”
  2102. >Suddenly, Cut’s voice cuts through the room, bringing all conversation to a half.
  2103. >>>>”PRINCE BLUEBLOOD PLAYS CYBER!?” she shouts, the shock of the revelation apparently having kept her from hearing the entire rest of the conversation.
  2104. >Galloping up to him she jabs her hoof right in his face.
  2105. >>>>”/YOU/ PLAY CYBER!?”
  2106. >He glances at her hoof and grimaces.
  2107. >”By my Aunt, you had such nicely pedicured hooves and you CHEWED on them!?”
  2108. >With surprising force, he bats her hoof away.
  2109. >”I-I’ve been doing better,” she weakly protests while self-consciously tucking the hoof against her chest.
  2110. >But he ignores her, and indignantly cries, ”Of course I play Cyber! Before it was a card game for loser /mares/, it was an ancient means for noble stallions to hold battles of wits! While the mares performed magic duels and other boorish things of course.”
  2111. >Wait, so Cyber was originally a colt’s game!?
  2112. >You’d pay anything to see the reactions of those mares out in the main room if they heard that.
  2113. >”While you were still learning to spell your name, I was being trained to concur tournaments! As is the duty of a stallion born of my noble house! ”
  2114. >Cut’s eyebrows knit together.
  2115. >>>>”Cyber was only released a few years ago...”
  2116. >”To the /common/ pony perhaps!” he spits.
  2117. >Despite Cut, and everypony else for that matter, still very obviously having questions, Blueblood clearly views the matter as settled.
  2118. >Without another word he turns away from Cut and prances his way over to the fancy table.
  2119.  
  2120.  
  2121. >You are Cut N. Paste, and you’re left a little stunned.
  2122. >Cyber was a game for unicorn nobles!?
  2123. >Unicorn noble STALLIONS!?
  2124. >HOW HAD YOU NEVER HEARD THIS BEFORE!?
  2125. >To think your favorite card game was originally a powerful means for noblestallions to settle claims without violence...
  2126. >...Nah, that’s probably just a whimsical exaggeration.
  2127. >What’s much more likely is that it was something the mares gave to their husbands to keep them distracted while the real work was done, if anything.
  2128. >Which, considering it is still your favorite game, sure makes you feel a /little/ emaresculated.
  2129. >But, really, who cares?
  2130. >Knowing that doesn’t really change anything about the game or how much you enjoy it.
  2131. >...wow, Pike’s right! This is making you more confident!
  2132. >That would /not/ have been your reaction a few months ago!
  2133. >Blueblood, meanwhile, has stopped his prancing by the table’s side.
  2134. >The Prince begins gingerly, almost lovingly, tracing his hoof around one of the ornate carvings of a unicorn.
  2135. >”This table has served my family in those battles for generations. Ah, the victories it has seen...”
  2136. >He sighs wistfully, a dreamy look in his eyes.
  2137. >”The Conquest of Dream Valley, the Recapturing of Phillydelphia, even the Blitzkrieg of the Rhineland—”
  2138. >>”Hold up,” Anon’s alarmed voice interjects, “What the FUCK was that last one?”
  2139. >”—all of these great victories were won on this very table,” Blueblood continues.
  2140. >He stops running his hoof along the carving, only to throw himself onto it like he’s diving into the hooves of his lover.
  2141. >”And I’ve been letting it LANGUISH in here without a single duel to be conducted on it!”
  2142. >Well, that doesn’t make any sense!
  2143. >This tournament’s been running for what, a couple years now?
  2144. >If he’s the noble financing this whole thing, wouldn’t he have oodles of opponents to face?
  2145. >Oh well, best not to question it.
  2146. >You know all too well how stallions get when you interrupt them while they’re trying to be all dramatic.
  2147. “Hasn’t this tournament been running for years?”
  2148. >...
  2149. >Mouth, buck you.
  2150. >Thankfully, Blueblood does not fly a rage that you questioned him, instead he moans in pain and covers his eyes.
  2151. >”It’s true!” he cries, “I created this tournament to find the brightest Cyber strategists in Canterlot! Free of the /“rules”/ and /“regulations”/ those PHILISTINES put in place when they /localized/ my beloved game!”
  2152. >Letting his hooves fall away, you see the most exasperated pony you’ve ever laid eyes on.
  2153. >”And all I got were a bunch of yearlings too afraid to even be at the same table as me.”
  2154. >As he lets his head fall against the table, all of the gathered mares are wise enough not to speak up.
  2155. >But Anon on the other hoof...
  2156. >>”So what was with the stupid get up then if you weren’t trying to psych ponies out?”
  2157. >Blueblood lazily rolls his head so that he can make eye contact with Anon.
  2158. >”Come now, Anonymous, could you imagine the scandal if /I/ was seen amongst the ponies outside that curtain?”
  2159. >Blueblood violently shudders.
  2160. >” Eeeeeug, awful.”
  2161. >You just barely out of the corner of your eye, you catch Pike rolling her’s.
  2162. >She says nothing out loud, but you can tell exactly what she’s thinking.
  2163. >>>’Stallions.’
  2164. >Blueblood, meanwhile, is in total ignorance of Pike’s silent mocking as he climbs off the table.
  2165. >”But enough about my disappointment.”
  2166. >He practically canters over to one of the two ornate seats at the table, letting his fillyfriend pull it out before he sits down.
  2167. >”Let’s start the game shall we?”
  2168.  
  2169.  
  2170. >”The game will be a 40 card draft.”
  2171. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and you are completely lost.
  2172. >>”Woah! Is this the new expansion!? It doesn’t even come out for a few more months!”
  2173. >”Yes, and I wouldn’t hold your breath for it. I’m not a fan.”
  2174. >Just when you thought you had a handle on how these nerds operated, they go and completely change the game on you.
  2175. >Instead of sitting down and pulling out their decks, like they’ve done every other time, Blueblood just pulled out a few sealed packs.
  2176. >They look like the ones you’d buy at a store.
  2177. >Guess they need to make their decks on the spot or something?
  2178. >Ah, who knows, and more importantly who cares?
  2179. >There’s a much more pressing issue on your mind right now.
  2180. >That being, how is Cut not freaking out!?
  2181. >Prince Blueblood, the most colty colt for probably a thousand miles and Prince of Equestria, just told her that one of her favorite pastimes was made for colts to play while the mares were out doing the real work!
  2182. >If he told you that, you’d be freaking out!
  2183. >Stars above, no wonder this whole night has felt so jam-packed with whimsy.
  2184. >This game was designed with whimsy in mind!
  2185. >...should you stop this? Pull Cut out?
  2186. >Sure this seems to be accomplishing the short-term goal of helping her confidence, but will it end up damaging the long-term goal of helping her mareliness?
  2187. >You know what your Mom would say at least.
  2188. >She’d be slapping the cards out of Cut’s hooves.
  2189. >Heck, she’d probably have done that even before Blueblood’s bombshell!
  2190. >But you’ve been trying so hard to coax out that fire you saw when you first met her, and tonight’s been bringing it out in spades!
  2191. >How can that be?
  2192. >Shouldn’t /marely/ things be what brings out her fire, her confidence?
  2193. >It's not like you haven’t been having fun yourself, either.
  2194. >So what should you do?
  2195. >>”Alright,” Cut’s voice cuts through your thoughts, “We take one card and then pass the pack right?”
  2196.  
  2197.  
  2198. >You are Cut N. Paste, and this is more intense than you were expecting.
  2199. >The Prince must really want a test of your skills if he’s insisting on a draft game.
  2200. >Nothing shows Cyber mastery like being able to build a winning deck on the spot!
  2201. >”Yes,” the Prince replies, “On the count of three, we open our packs and get started.”
  2202. >Looking down at the booster pack in your hooves, you feel a little sweat on your brow.
  2203. >This expansion isn’t even on the market yet, you’ve got no idea what to expect when you open this pack.
  2204. >”One, two, three!”
  2205. >Without a moment’s hesitation you tear into the booster pack and gaze at the cards within.
  2206. >Your eyes are immediately drawn to a green card with an /extremely/well-muscled colt on it.
  2207. >Kinda reminds you of Anon...
  2208. >Quickly fanning through the rest of the cards, it seems this set’s theme is “genetic modification”.
  2209. >Which means there are a LOT of hunky, buff, stallions.
  2210. >G-Gee is it hot in here or is it just you?
  2211. >Lost in indecision, you notice a stack of cards drifting in from the corner of your eye.
  2212. >It's Blueblood putting his pack next to you, he must have picked his card already.
  2213. >Oooooh, better hurry up Cut!
  2214. >You begin rapidly glancing over the cards, realizing you were so caught up in the art you forgot to check any of their stats!
  2215. >Aw jeez, and Blueblood’s waiting on you too!
  2216. >Better just pick the card that looks like Anon.
  2217. >It's only the first draw of the first pack, if it turns out not to be good it's no big deal.
  2218. >You can make up for it, easy!
  2219. >Passing the rest of the cards on to Blueblood, you take hold of the stack he passed to you.
  2220. >Hmmm, what to pick...
  2221.  
  2222.  
  2223. >”And thus ends the draft!”
  2224. >What Blueblood said is true.
  2225. >The two of you passed your first packs back and forth until not a single card was left, and then did the same for your second packs.
  2226. >You were kind of worried at first, but once you got a feel for the set and a good rhythm going, you felt more confident in your choices.
  2227. >Now the two of you just have to make your decks and the battle can begin.
  2228. >Blueblood’s already started pouring over his cards, so no reason for you not to do the same!
  2229. >Neatly laying your cards out in front of you in several rows, and knowing Blueblood’s too honorable to look at them, you begin assessing your options.
  2230. >...
  2231. >Uh oh.
  2232. >It appears in your zen-like state you unwittingly allowed something a bit more /primal/ in your brain to take over.
  2233. >Because all these cards seem to have uh, really good art.
  2234. >Really, really, REALLY good art.
  2235. >I-Is it getting hot in here?
  2236. >>”Woah, look, it's me!” comes Anon’s voice.
  2237. >Shifting your eyes to the right, it seems that while you were taking in your cards, Anon and Pike came to stand by your side.
  2238. >>>”Wow, they are you,” Pike says, grabbing a card off the table.
  2239. >Definitely not embarrassed, and certainly not in a panic, you immediately throw your hooves onto the table and sloppily drag all your once neatly laid out cards into a pile.
  2240. >You’re definitely not embarrassed by the deck you’ve built, no ma’am.
  2241. “P-Pretty crazy coincidence, huh?” you stammer unconvincingly.
  2242. >>”I’m not sure about that,” Anon’s honeyed voice chimes in. “I saw those other cards, babe, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say you have a type.”
  2243. >You hunch further over your pile of cards at Anon’s slanderous accusation.
  2244. “I just uh... I just like the art on these cards is all!”
  2245. >Pike’s positively devious fanged grin slides into your view.
  2246. >>>”Oh sis, I am /right/ there with you.”
  2247. >Pike lets the card she was holding fall onto your pile, and you get an eyeful of exactly what she was talking about.
  2248. >Front and center on the card is no less than a wild stallion, perched in a jungle tree and garbed in a combat harness you’d call nothing less than ‘slutty’.
  2249. >’Dripping Commando’ indeed...
  2250. >>>”Such good taste! Check the fetlocks on him.”
  2251. >At that, she switches targets to Anon and adds, “You should grow ‘em out like that, hun.”
  2252. >Despite yourself, your mind immediately jumps into the gutter.
  2253. >Mmm, they are /quite/ unshorn, aren’t they?
  2254. >>”Really? Think I’d look good with the shaggy look?”
  2255. >Do not imagine it Cut!
  2256. >Stop fantasizing right now!
  2257. >If you wink on the Prince’s chair you might actually get sent to the dungeon!
  2258. >>>”Cut certainly seems to think s—”
  2259. >”Are you two done?”
  2260. >Like the Princess herself coming down from the sky, Blueblood’s voice saves you from certain embarrassment.
  2261. >He’s a metaphorical bucket of ice water, instantly killing the mood your herdmates had been building.
  2262. >You wouldn’t even call it unjustified, seeing that from the outside was probably extremely uncomfortable.
  2263. >Gesturing to his own, seemingly completed deck, he shouts, ”You’re delaying our mighty battle!”
  2264. >>”Great,” you hear Anon mutter under his breath, “Of course the aryan pony is a fun nazi.”
  2265. >Looking down to your haphazard stack, you consider your options.
  2266. >Either pick through them to separate a few out or just play with all of them.
  2267. >Well, seeing as the Prince has already made his deck, no reason to keep him waiting.
  2268. >Sliding your haphazard pile of cards around until it’s finally formed into a deck, you take a deep breath.
  2269. “Alright, I’m ready.”
  2270.  
  2271.  
  2272. >You are Prince Blueblood, Cyber Grandmaster!
  2273. >For the first time in so long, you’re finally being presented with a title match!
  2274. >A match that so far isn’t quite going like you’d expected.
  2275. >”I summon... a-another Enhanced Mercenary!”
  2276. >That makes her fifth consecutive construct, representing four out of the five colors too.
  2277. >It's quite the eclectic style, but you suppose a skilled pony could make a multi-colored deck work.
  2278. >Sure, you’ve never actually seen it happen, but you wanted this tournament to surprise you.
  2279. >And if nothing else, her construct choice has certainly surprised you.
  2280. >She was taking more than one Enhanced Mercenary, but left you the Ape Sidekicks?
  2281. >Those cards were practically made to go together!
  2282. >But despite that you ended up with all of them.
  2283. >Not because you particularly wanted them, but because she left them in rotation so long you ended up taking them just to take cards.
  2284. >And one of the other constructs on her field goes great with a program she practically /let/ you have!
  2285. >Mmm, maybe springing this never-before-seen expansion on her was a bad idea...
  2286.  
  2287.  
  2288. >You are Cut N. Paste, and you are in deep.
  2289. >So far you’ve been playing this game far faster and far looser than you would have liked.
  2290. >You just haven’t found the synergy in these cards yet!
  2291. >You know it has to be there, there’s no way you’d build a deck just based on cards you thought were ho—
  2292. >Based on cards you thought had such good art, you mean.
  2293. >It seems for now your only available strategy is to vomit out constructs.
  2294. >Which is becoming increasingly hard, considering it seems that you lacked the mental faculties to at least /stick to one color/!
  2295. >Or even TWO!
  2296. >You nearly slam your head into the table in frustration.
  2297. >This freaking deck is all over the place!
  2298. >Dimly you become aware of the fact that Blueblood just ended his turn.
  2299. >Another great setup for a damage combo, no doubt, while you’re just stuck throwing constructs at him.
  2300. >Reaching out to draw your next card, you send up a silent prayer that it’ll be something you can actually use.
  2301. >With bated breath, you turn it to face you...
  2302. >Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand it’s another useless, but good looking, construct.
  2303. >You play it, of course, no reason not to when you’ve got the production.
  2304. >As you lay the card on the board, however, Blueblood scrunches his face so deeply that you can’t help but feel like you’ve made a horrible mistake.
  2305. >”Ms. Paste,” he says with no small amount of disgust, “did you /hornybuild/ this deck?”
  2306. >Wha—
  2307. >No you—
  2308. >You just—
  2309. >Oh who are you kidding?
  2310. >It's time to be honest with yourself.
  2311. >You let your clit do the thinking, and now you’ve not only thrown this game, but you’re also about to make an absolute flank of yourself in front of the /Prince/ too.
  2312. >THE PRINCE!
  2313. >Oooooh this is terrible!
  2314. >This is the WORST!
  2315. >How could you do this to yourself?
  2316. >First he’s gonna call you a creep, then he’s gonna tell EVERY stallion in Canterlot!
  2317. >Everypony knows he’s the biggest gossip on the mountain!
  2318. >Then your reputation will be ruined!
  2319. >No stallion will ever even SPEAK to you!
  2320. >AND—!
  2321. >...and?
  2322. >For once, nothing interrupts your spiraling to bring it to a halt, it simply stops on its own.
  2323. >Which leaves with that simple question.
  2324. >And?
  2325. >So what if he goes and tells every stallion he knows?
  2326. >Even if you didn’t have Anon, this is still Blueblood you’re talking about.
  2327. >Would you /really/ want to talk to a stallion that takes what Blueblood says at face value?
  2328. >Buck no!
  2329. >So for that matter... Why do you even care what he thinks about you, to begin with?
  2330.  
  2331.  
  2332. >You are the deeply disappointed Prince Blueblood.
  2333. >It seems you overestimated your opponent, and by extension Anonymous’ taste in mares.
  2334. >Her silence in the face of your question all but confirmed your worst fears.
  2335. >To think she’d throw away the tournament by doing something as /base/ as thinking with her clit!
  2336. >THIS is why Cyber was always meant to be a stallion’s game!
  2337. >Maybe it's time to admit this fiasco of a tournament was a failure, and go back to bugging the other noblestallions to play.
  2338. >Your attention had already started to wander, so you only barely catch sight of your opponent putting down her cards.
  2339. >It seems she’s putting them down... face up?
  2340. >Once again giving the mare your full attention, you find that you were not seeing things.
  2341. >The cards she once held are now lying on the table, face up.
  2342. >This is typically a sign of surrender, but the determined look on her face tells you that you might be in for something quite different.
  2343. >”You’re right, Blueblood,” she says, “I do want to buck these cards.”
  2344. >Well, that was unexpected.
  2345. >You didn’t think she’d just up and admit to it like that.
  2346. >You suppose you can at least give her credit for owning up to it.
  2347. “Would you like to do a redra—”
  2348. >”But that’s okay!”
  2349. >HEY! She can’t cut you off!
  2350. >Doesn’t she know who she’s talking to!
  2351. >But before you can properly get yourself fussy over it, she slams her forehooves on the table, rising to stand in her chair.
  2352. >A Earth pony mare of her size doing that is more than a little intimidating, you’ll admit.
  2353. >”In fact, I want to buck most of my cards!”
  2354. >With wild abandon she throws open the saddlebags she set by the chair and pulls a deck out.
  2355. >Whipping it onto the table, the box breaks open, scattering the cards all around the left side of the table.
  2356. >The sight of them makes you roll your eyes.
  2357. >Ugh, /submariners/.
  2358. >”Could you imagine how good Anon would look in a skintight wetsuit? How about with unshorn fetlocks spilling out of the cuffs?! Can you even comprehend how hot that’d be!?”
  2359. “Not particularly.”
  2360. >”So, yeah. If wanting to buck these stallions drawn to be hot makes me a creep in your eyes, so what? I’ve got a coltfriend! I’ve got a great job! I don’t need the validation of somepony I’ll never see again!”
  2361. >You’ve got a bad feeling about this.
  2362. >”But most of all, I...”
  2363. >Oh no, she’s started building up to something!
  2364. >”I’m...”
  2365. >Should you run!? Take cover!?
  2366. >”I’M...!”
  2367. “Oh Auntie, please protect me!”
  2368. >”I’M going to attack with the Slutty Commando, and since he has reach that deals an immediate three damage. Then the ability of the Coochie Killing Clone allows me to flash and flicker him which lets him deal another three damage for the cost of one production. Since, technically, two of the same kind unit dealt damage this turn I can activate the Vat Grown Horror Husbando’s genomorph ability which lets me search through my deck and add five constructs of my choice to my hoof.”
  2369. >Wait, what? Hold on here!
  2370. >Before you can even process what her move was, she’s already pulled five more cards out of her deck.
  2371. >”Because this construct is late for work, I can play him even though I’m in attack phase...”
  2372.  
  2373.  
  2374. >You are the deeply, /deeply/ impressed Nocturnal Pike.
  2375. >It seems your lessons got through to her after all.
  2376. >In one fell swoop, Cut not only shook off embarrassing herself so bad that most mares would have run for the hills, she’s also completely turned the game around!
  2377. >You were worried she’d wuss out there for a bit, but in the end she owned it like a true trixie.
  2378. >”Both these soldiers can attack even though I’ve just played them, so that’s another six damage.”
  2379. >She’s been going for fifteen minutes!
  2380. >Blueblood put up some paltry resistance at first, but now he looks well and truly defeated.
  2381. >It seems a major part of this strategy is repeatedly bringing your opponent to the edge of defeat, only to heal them back up.
  2382. >Well, either that or Cut’s just feeling sadistic.
  2383. >Either way, it’s knocked the resistance out of the poor prince.
  2384. >”Oh and the lifesteal they’ve got brings my health total up to 79. Next, I’ll—”
  2385. >>”THAT’S IT!” cries Blueblood in desperation, “I SURRENDER! NO MORE!”
  2386. >Cut looks almost disappointed.
  2387. >”Aw, but I still had to play my Spandex—”
  2388. >>”NO MORE SPANDEX! NO MORE SKIMPY OUTFITS!”
  2389. >>Throwing his cards into the air, he shouts, “I YIELD!”
  2390. >Rookie is next to him in a moment, and throws himself onto her, babbling hysterically into her fur about how he never wants to see lingerie ever again.
  2391. >Cut, meanwhile, seems to have been stunned.
  2392. >”Wait, that means... I won?”
  2393.  
  2394.  
  2395.  
  2396. >”I WON!”
  2397. >You are Anonymous, and you are HYPE!
  2398. >She actually won!
  2399. >Your big titted babe actually won!
  2400. “Way to go!” you cheer.
  2401. >Cut immediately turns to you, and with a beaming smile on her face... jumps off the fucking chair!
  2402. >OH SHIT!
  2403. >Bracing your hooves for impact and summoning your hands, you’re able to cushion her collision with you just enough that you don’t lose your balance.
  2404. >That’s not the most surprising thing, however.
  2405. >No, that comes when just as you feel her impact on your chest, she smoothly throws her forehooves around you and goes in for a passionate kiss.
  2406. >Feeling her lips on yours, you let out an involuntary grunt of surprise.
  2407. >You didn’t know she had moves like that in her!
  2408. >But of course, you’re not complaining.
  2409.  
  2410.  
  2411. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and you’re starting to feel pretty left out.
  2412. >It was fine while Blueblood was still whimpering, but he stopped doing that several minutes ago.
  2413. >So as it stands, you really wish there was something else in the room to focus on than the sound of Anon and Cut sloppily making out.
  2414. >Maybe you could motorboat his balls while he does?
  2415. >The kiss has gone on pretty long and has been pretty heavy, it's not like you’d be making it /that/ much more obscene.
  2416. >Plus doing that in front of the Prince would make for one heck of a story.
  2417. >Ah, but alas, just as you’d make up your mind, Cut pulls away.
  2418. >”W-was that too much tongue? I don’t want to gross you out or anything.”
  2419. >Anon chuckles, using his hands to gently guide her hooves back to solid ground.
  2420. >>”No no, it was fine. I was NOT the one grossed out in that situation.”
  2421. >As if on cue, you hear Blueblood clear his throat.
  2422. >>>The three of you turn towards him just in time to witness Rook ask, “Should we start making out too? You know, to get back at them?”
  2423. >Blueblood just scoffs.
  2424. >>>>”Not in public!” he quietly whines before addressing Cut, “Well, Miss Paste, I seem to have been utterly defeated. I’d say well done, but I feel like this was a hollow victory.”
  2425. >What!?
  2426. >He has the AUDACITY to say that after she beat him fair and square!
  2427. >What an absolute dick!
  2428. >You ought to give him a piece of your mind!
  2429. >”Yeah, it kind of was.”
  2430. >Any sort of diatribe you were about to release is immediately smothered by Cut’s statement.
  2431. >Anon looks to you for confirmation on what you just heard, clearly as surprised as you are.
  2432. >All you can do is shrug back, guess it's a pro-gamer thing.
  2433. >”Once I got over the shame of playing those cards I realized how completely broken they were. I mean, did you see some of those ‘genomorph’ abilities? There’s no way half the cards will ever make it into a professional tournament.”
  2434. >Blueblood, for the first time you’ve ever heard, laughs in a way that isn’t condescending.
  2435. >>>>”Ha! Maybe. But I doubt many ponies will bother building the five-color decks that can truly take advantage of it. Oh, speaking of.”
  2436. >Lighting his horn, several small boxes fly out from beside his throne in the back of the room.
  2437. >>>>”These boxes are supposed to be the prizes for the next five months of tournament winners. But, I don’t foresee anypony else winning these and frankly, I never want to look at this expansion ever again.”
  2438. >His magic abruptly cuts out, roughly dropping the boxes on the game table in front of Cut.
  2439. >Now that the three of you can get a better look, you see they’re ‘booster boxes’.
  2440. >Cut pops the closest one open, and it's filled with /dozens/ of those little packs that she opened at the start of the match.
  2441. >Holy cow, that’s over two hundred cards she’s being offered!
  2442. >Once again surprising you though, Cut’s face scrunches.
  2443. >”Ehhhhh I dunno.”
  2444. >But Anon, devilish as ever, takes the opportunity to lean in and whisper dark temptations into her ear.
  2445. >>”Do you think Silken will take those as payment for all those outfits you want me to wear?”
  2446. >In an instant, Cut’s mind is clearly made up.
  2447. >”I'd be MORE than happy to take these off your hooves!”
  2448. >No sooner has she said it than she’s started trying to greedily shove all the boxes into her saddlebags.
  2449. >Considering the size of the boxes, it doesn’t work, for obvious reasons.
  2450. >Ever the drama king, Blueblood sighs like a great burden has been lifted.
  2451. >>>>”Then all’s well that ends well.”
  2452. >Hopping off his seat, he deftly throws the disguising cloak back over his body.
  2453. >>>>”Now let’s get out of here,” he says to Rook in the magically altered voice. “As much as I hate to admit it, she gave me some pretty good ideas to do with you tonight.”
  2454. >Rook quirks her brow.
  2455. >>>”Wait really? Like what.”
  2456. >Now you're hearing something else you’ve never heard in your life: Blueblood being sheepish.
  2457. >>>>”Well, I’ve got some fur growth tonics I could use on my fetlocks if you wanted—”
  2458. >Before he can even finish the thought, Rook’s tossed him into her back in a groomal carry.
  2459. >>>”AlrightSargeseeyousoonwe’vegottogobye!”
  2460. >>>>”Wait wait wait not in front of the tournament goers!” Blueblood futilely cries in doppler as she runs off with him.
  2461. >And just like that, they’re gone.
  2462. >Cut couldn’t care less though, she’s still desperately trying to make all those boxes fit into her saddlebags.
  2463. >You can see the seams stretching to their limit as she forces in another box where another box was never meant to go.
  2464. >”Come on, come on!”
  2465. >>”Babe, just give it a rest, we’ll get a bag from the front.”
  2466.  
  2467.  
  2468. >The three of you are back home now, and you’d call tonight a major success.
  2469. >Cut was practically floating through the store as the three of you departed, soaking in all the awe thrown her way like a sponge.
  2470. >It seems to have had a lasting effect on her too.
  2471. >She’s been standing just a little straighter and smiling just a bit brighter.
  2472. >It truly was a total victory for her, Anon, and you.
  2473. >Now the three of you are piled on top of each other on the couch, sharing your favorite parts of this night that’ll be remembered for weeks to come.
  2474. >”My favorite was still the first,” says Anon. “I mean, when she collapsed? Priceless.”
  2475. >>”I still can’t believe I beat /him/!” Cut adds with awe. “By luck! Wow, I’ve got to stay far away from Cyber once this expansion drops, it is really awful.”
  2476. >Seeing Cut like this though, you can’t help but feel... odd.
  2477. >Tonight has seemed to go out of its way to recontextualize what you think of ‘mareliness’.
  2478. >You set out on this journey with the intention of making her more confident, and then in the long term, more marely.
  2479. >So there’s been that part of you that’s been saying all night, ‘When are you going to stop stalling and tell Cut that a true marely mare would drop the card game?’
  2480. >A part that got especially loud once Blueblood broke the news it was originally for colts.
  2481. >But if you look at her for even a second, you can plainly see how tonight’s victory has made her happier, more confident.
  2482. >She’s found a new way to truly find her own worth, to stand on her own hooves.
  2483. >Through that undeniably unmarely card game!
  2484. >How?!
  2485. >Cut lets out a deep yawn from her pinned position between Anon and the back of the couch.
  2486. >>”Ooh, sorry to make you two get up, but can we move to bed? I-I’m feeling pretty beat.”
  2487. >Anon chuckles, you can feel the reverberations against your back as he does.
  2488. >”I can’t imagine why. It's not like you’ve spent most of the night screaming at weirdos or anything.”
  2489. >You spend a moment more staring off at the ceiling, before finally deciding.
  2490. “Yeah,” you add, “I think it's time we all hit the hay.”
  2491. >Especially since you’ve got something to sleep on, now.
  2492. >”Speaking of hay, I’ve been wondering, do you still use it in your mattresses?”
  2493. >You smirk, unable to even think about resisting.
  2494. “Why? Do you want a bedtime snack or something?”
  2495.  
  2496.  
  2497. Continued in Part 6: https://ponepaste.org/6834

The Long and Short of It (RGRE) Part 6

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I D O L

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