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Chapter I, Act I

The Doctor and Bright Eyes

What if everything you knew, everything you thought was correct, everything you’d been led to believe, who you were told the good guys and bad guys were since you were a little foal, all of it, was all a lie in some twisted game?

How would you feel? Would you be angry? Sad, depressed, relieved, what would run through your mind the instant you realized everything was all fabricated? What would you do once you found out? Would you mope about? Would you be overwhelmed and end things right there? Would you become misequestric?

Or would you get even? Would you fix the broken, and bring down the player in this sick game?

My name is Caesar. Odds are you’ve seen me – or at least one of me – before. A tophat and monocle adorn my face. I’m prominent businesscolts, politicians, wealthy and important. Everywhere from Manehattan to Ponyville you can find one of me. This particular Caesar is a businesscolt in Manehattan, and a fan of fashion.

Why do I speak like there’s more than one? Because there are, of course. There’s more than one of everypony. We all have individual memories, thoughts based on how we’ve lived, souls, and such, but we all have hundreds, maybe thousands of identical twins throughout Equestria, and only a dozen or so are ever active at once. More are ready to be taken out and swapped in to avoid anyone questioning the system, should one of us fall victim to some sort of accident. Which tends to happen a lot when you’re viewed as a game piece.

Nopony’s ever noticed though, because of the skilled work of the player, the game master. Because of them, whenever somepony realizes what’s going on, that same night, they’re replaced. They’re taken away, “removed”, and then replaced by a new one, identical in every way, and indoctrinated with the experiences and beliefs of their predecessor, though some of the old one’s contacts and such need to remain the old ones in order to reaffirm the “memories”. Not a pretty fate, is it?

They move us around, controlling the events that we react to so we never meet a duplicate of ourselves or those we know. They watch us, monitoring us for anything odd where they can. By the time most realize the part about them looking over your shoulder, they’re already being dragged off for removal. I’m lucky in that sense. I’m already aware of this. Nobody ever stayed alive long enough to find out who they were. I have a few theories though, and I plan to see through finding which one is the one.

So if there are so many precautions, you may ask, how come removals are even needed? How does word get out? Well, everypony is bound to slip up eventually. And occasionally the game master gets overconfident. Which is how I found out about it.

A few weeks ago, given my position, I was one of many I know to receive an invitation to the Grand Galloping Gala. In the VIP section this year, too. However something happened as I listened in out of boredom on the conversation one of the Wonderbolts was having – A rainbow-maned pegasus headbutted me up into the air.

Lost my tophat during the fall, but I found it later, and moreover, gained something valuable. Knowledge of the reality of our world. When I was shot up into the air, I saw two identical ponies staring in shock and surprise from across the room. Not just identical to each other – identical to me. They were separate, but for that moment, I saw two other Caesars standing elsewhere. I don’t know if there were more at the Gala, or if there am more than three of me awake right now.

After I regained my composure from the fall, I started searching around the building, pretending to just be going around the party to see friends. I saw them everywhere, now that I was looking for them; identical duplicates, the same skin tone, the same mane colour, the same eyes, the cutie mark, even the outfit was the same. Copies all around me, alive and individual, yet…not unique. And worst of all, until I “woke up” and realized this, I was one of them. It was like something out of a horror film.

I managed to keep an image of collection during the remainder of the Gala, though to my fortune, some sort of destruction in the dance hall ended it early, allowing me to escape home sooner rather than later. It’s been three weeks since, and I’ve managed to get little sleep, but I’ve pieced things together, based on who I recognized amongst the copies, who there was only one of invited, and trying to find information on my other selves.

I’ve been assembling the pieces. I’ve been placing potential Game Masters, who may be the puppeteer behind all this madness. I don’t have anything concrete yet, but I have conjecture as hard as concrete. I can’t keep going alone though – I don’t have the capability, talents, skill, or fortitude to do everything myself. I need a team.

Because of this, as well as the network of lies, I’ve been piecing together one of those I trust, those with capability, and those who have connections. I’ve narrowed the ponies that fit all of these down to a small group; The Doctor, The Sage, Engi, The Specialist, and Bright Eyes. Each is a friend I am confident I can trust and inform of what I’ve learned, and each has a specific ability that will help with what I need to confirm, and if we live that long, take down the mastermind of this “reality”.

First I need to get to them though. Engi’s job requires travel, so he’ll be a challenge to get to. Bright Eyes and The Doctor I see daily though, so they should be easy to reach. The Sage is a town out from Manehattan. As for The Specialist, she’s here tonight, so I’ll be able to get to her later today, as well.

In the meantime though, I need to get to work, and that means reaching out to those I want with me, starting with the doctor.

“That’s all…that’s all I should need to convince him.” As he spoke, Caesar turned around, walking away from the wall behind him. It was covered in photos, string wrapped around tacks connecting different things to each other, and a mess of sticky notes, all with seemingly abstract meaning. To the side though, there was a simplified, easier to follow version. The curtains in the room were drawn, and the lights, excepting a single lamp, were off, leaving the room in near darkness.

Caesar waded his way through the pile of food wrappers, crumpled notes and photos, and drink cans to the door, pushing it open, before rearing back and falling over, the sunlight greeting his eyes for the first time in days, like a flashlight shining right in front of your face after hours in the dark. He shook his head as he got up, as if to shake away clouds inside his head, and continued on, managing to get out this time.

There was a creaking sound as Caesar pushed the wooden door open. A heavy, warm-smelling slab of mahogany, it moved slowly, but it was also a very reliable door if anyone ever pounded on it. This building, lit by an odd mix of open windows and abnormally strong synthetic light, was the house of Doctor Whoof, an old friend of his, and somepony who seemed to have the ability to be in two places at once, in addition to being both resourceful and smart.

“Doc?” He called. “It’s Caesar. I need to speak with you about something.” The businesscolt glanced around as he spoke, eyes jumping from knickknack to tchotchke to trinket, and all in-between, from amulets to instruments to odd-looking pieces of what seemed like technology. Whoof always had strange tastes, and it seemed like he added something newer and stranger each time he came over.

“Sure, I’ll be down in a second.” He came down a moment later, a curious look on his face. “Caesar, I haven’t seen you in weeks. Where’ve you been?”

“It’s a long story, I’ll explain later.” Caesar responded. “In the meantime, come along with me, I want to show you and a few others something. Something important.”

He nodded, though the curious look on his face began to mix with skepticism. “Sure, but…what is it?”

“I can’t tell you outside. Business stuff and all that.” He nodded, the skepticism fading, though confusion taking its place. “Alright, but one more question. You’re not wearing a tophat, I thought you liked that thing?”

Caesar glanced up, feeling the top of his head. Indeed, he had left his tophat at home in his hurry. “…Must’ve forgotten it. Can I borrow one of yours?” Doctor Whoof nodded, a smile coming onto his face now. “Sure, let me go get one.” The Doctor ran off up the wooden stairs, then returned a moment later, carrying a round, red hat with him.

“…This is?” Caesar spoke with confusion, as he hadn’t seen a hat like this before.

“It’s a fez.” The doctor replied. “Fezzes are cool.” There was a moment of silence before either spoke up again.

“…On second thought, keep the fez, my house is on the way, I’ll just get my hat when we pass it.” Whoof shrugged, then nodded, tossing the hat onto his own head.

“Equestria Postal Service Central Office, this is the place.” The two colts stood outside the aforementioned building, gazing up at the massive, glass-enclosed structure, both now wearing the proper hats.

“…Alright, you’ve brought me random places before,” Whoof spoke with a bemused edge. “But usually I’m fine with it because I can get something silly that looks good in a glass case. This I just don’t get.”

“We’re here to get another friend. I want her to see this too.” As Caesar responded, The Doctor raised one eyebrow, lowering the other, a look of confusion.

“You know, you still haven’t told me what you want to show us.” Whoof said.

“All in good time, my friend.” At that, the tophat-adorned of the two walked forward, pushing open the door, the colt in the fez following behind.

They entered into a large lobby, a large, round, utilitarian room, mainly empty, save for an assortment of ponies in chairs all around, as this was apparently the waiting room as well. There was a wooden desk near the back, also round, with a single pony behind it. She played with a small, cube-shaped puzzle, leaning back in her chair and paying none of the others much mind, including the Doctor and Caesar.

“Can I help you?” She asked in a flat, low monotone. It was clear she was bored by the tone of voice, as well as annoyed, likely by the mere fact the two had entered, as her pay didn’t rely on anyone coming in, meaning every guest was a unnecessary nuisance.

“Um…we’re looking for a friend, she works he—“

“Just give me her name already.” No time wasted at all.

“Erm, her name’s Derpy.” The receptionist eyed the two colts in front of her from behind a pair of sharp, pointed glasses, for a moment, before nodding.

“Weird girl. Good at her job though, go down the hall on the left, she’s through the third door on the right.” Caesar nodded, heading in the direction, Doctor Whoof following after.

They arrived at the door, pushing it open and entering the room. The inside of it was clean and sharp, an angular, space-saving rectangle of space, devoid of many things to catch the senses, save for the scent of baked goods and a desk with neat stacks of envelopes, a mailbag hanging over a chair in front of the desk. Behind it was another chair, on which sat a gray, cross-eyed pegasus, who was staring intently – or as intently as you can cross-eyed – at a muffin on the desk.

The two entered, confused less by the look on the unicorn’s face, and more by the muffin. “Um…Derpy?” The unicorn’s focus shot away from the muffin, then to the two guests, a look of surprise on her face, which was soon replaced by one of joy.

“Caesar! Whoofy!” At that, she hopped over the desk, tackling both of them, using one arm to give each what would be considered a hug if it were looser.


“Oh!” She released the two, stepping back up as they pulled each other back to their feet. “Why’re you two here?”

“Apparently Caesar wants to show us something.” The Doctor said. “Won’t say what.”

“Ooh, a surprise! What is it?” The smile on her face had gone to a look of excitement now.

“I can’t say yet. But it’s…a doozy, to put it mildly.” There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, during which Derpy stared at the two, somehow looking more confused than before.

“A what?” She asked.

“…A doozy.” He replied.

 “A what?” Caesar bit his lip in annoyance for a moment.

“Something big.” The expression on her face switched from confused to happy once more.

“Oh, okay!” She said with cheer.

“So, can you come with us then?” She glanced from the two of them to her desk, and then back again.

“Sorry, I have work. Muffins don’t mail themselves! Although they could if you used magic…we should hire more unicorns…” The tangent turned into muttering, during which Derpy’s eyes shot around, still cross-eyed, but changing where they were staring rapidly.

Caesar and Doctor Whoof exchanged concerned glances, before Caesar put a hoof on Derpy’s shoulder to try to get her attention.

“Oh, sorry!” She blurted, turning back to the two. “I’m busy right now, but I can meet you guys later?” Caesar nodded, a smile on his face.

“Sure, that’ll be fine. Come to the Grooving Grotto around 8, we’ll meet there.”

“Alrighty then!” At that, she hopped back behind the desk, returning to staring at the muffin. The two colts exchanged glances once more, and then walked out, closing the door behind them.

“So wait, if you’re going to show us at eight, why did you get me now?” The look of confusion had returned to The Doctor’s face.

“We’re not done yet. We still have one more person to get before we can go.” The confused face deepened, annoyance mixing into it.

“…Okay, it’s 11 AM. You can get across all of Manehattan in three hours. Even if we go from here to the west end and back, it’ll only be 5. That leaves four hours to kill.” A look of smugness came into Caesar’s face.

“Who said they’re in Manehattan?” There was a pause, after which The Doctor’s eyes and mouth both drooped down, the confusion gone, now replaced with surprise, though not of the good sort.

“…You’re dragging me out of town for this, aren’t you? Why couldn’t you get this guy first?”

“Just relax,” Caesar replied. “They’re only one town over, and it’s not that far. We’ll be back around seven, so you can catch your breath before we go to the Grotto.”

He sighed, following along as Caesar began walking away. “Remind me to ask more before coming with next time you want to show me something.”


Chapter II, Act I

The Sage and The Specialist

“I…don’t…get it. A…magic show?” Doctor Whoof’s breath was staggered by panting, as the two had just spent the last few hours running straight from Manehattan to Foalton.

“An…old friend is here. She has an ego, but while it’s not what she claims, she does have talent, and she has personality, so I paid for her travel expenses and for a traveling stage for her to perform on.”

Whoof shrugged. “You’re…the one…who knows who you’re bringing…lead…the way.”

After a short walk farther, they arrived at what appeared to be a regular traveling stable, plain and inconspicuous, but with a myriad of hinges on all sides, what was either a patchwork by someone with too much free time, or a very elaborate multi-purpose design. There was a door on one side, which Caesar knocked on. A voice echoed from inside.

“Who dares disturb the great and pow—“ “Drop the act, Trix.” Caesar cut in. ”I paid for this thing, I deserve to come inside.”

There was a sound of something dropping from inside, before a face showed itself in the hole in the door. It was that of a blue unicorn, with a plume of hair in a lighter blue extending down in front of her face. A mix of surprise and concern covered her face.

“C-Caesar? I thought you were going to book the next shows in three months, not—“ Caesar cut in yet again, not wanting to extend things longer than needed.

“It’s not about the act. It’s about something more important.”

“…Fine, come in.” She pushed the door open, allowing Caesar in. She stood in the doorway as Whoof entered though. “Caesar manages the act, that’s why he’s allowed in. You are?”

“I’ve never seen you before. Same question.” Caesar’s ears shot up, and he spun around to face The Doctor over Trixie’s shoulder. “Don’t—“ This time, Trixie cut off Caesar.

“You dare insult I, the great and powerful Trixie, with a comparison to one as low as yourself, simply because you are inept enough not to know my name?!” Her manager sighed behind her, placing a hoof on his forehead.

“Here we go…”

“And that is why I’m called ‘The Great And Powerful’ Trixie!” The sun, which had been up when the two arrived, had now set.

“…How did you talk that long, with that little air, without pass—You know, it’s not important. Can the Doctor just come in now?” Trixie stuck her nose up, but stepped aside, letting the Doctor in. The inside of the stable was fairly bare, a few shelves here and there adorned with assorted personal care items, pieces of clothing, a few photos, and random pieces of what looked like a magician’s gear lying about, most of it on a small wooden table around which the three gathered. The whole thing had an overall rustic feel to it.

Once in, Whoof whispered to Caesar, who had been lying in the corner, trying to bear through the rant.  “Is she always like that?” He replied silently with a nod, after which the two turned to face Trixie.

“So, what did you come here for other than business?” She asked. “That’s usually all I ever hear from you for.”

“Something much more important, as I said. I need people for something. You’re a damn good illusionist. Even if your other fields could use some work, that’s invaluable.”

“I’ve gotten better, too.” She quipped, a smug smirk on her face. “Ever since that little wretch in Ponyville…” As she spoke, she slammed a hoof down onto the table. “I’m better now. Illusion is still my specialty, but I can do other things too.”

“Great,” Caesar responded. “The more the merri—“

“Hold on a minute.” This time, Caesar was the one being cut off by Trixie. “I never agreed. I have shows scheduled, I can’t exactly disappear all of a sudden. Especially since I have one tonight.”

“I’m your manager.” He replied. “I can make it happen.”

“Yes, well…” She said. “What if I don’t want to?”

“Simple.” A smug smirk crossed his face. “No more funding.” At that, Trixie started stammering, consternation alternating with anger and frustration on her face. “I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t important.” He added.

She sighed, lowering her head in defeat. “This better be good…” Caesar nodded.

“Right then, thanks to that ‘little’ rant, we’re going to have to make a four hour run in three hours, so I think we should get going.”

“Great,” Chimed in The Doctor. “Because the great and prideful Trixie couldn’t stop, we’re going to be late…”

“Can it, fez-head.” She shot back.

“Lets just get going, alright?” The two nodded to Caesar, then set off back to where the two colts had come from.

The threesome arrived at the club shortly after eight, all three nearing falling over from the run. “I…don’t see…why we’re…coming…to a place…like this…” Trixie staggered as she spoke, breath coming from short rasps rather than full breaths.

“Because there…are…two others…here.”  Caesar responded.

“Plus we can…sit down and…have a drink. A nice…luxury…given our run…don’t you think?” Added The Doctor.

The three entered the building. Being a nightclub, outside of the coloured lights shining down from above the stage and the lights inside the bar, there was very little light in the room, and what light there was, was dimmed by the haze that filled the room, which was accompanied by the acrid scent of the smoke.

Distinguishable in the light though, was the gray pony from before sitting at the bar, staring at a small glass in front of her, before one cross eye caught the group.

“Doc, Caesar! ….Who’s she?” She gestured to Trixie as she spoke.

“You are unknowing of that which you are in the presence of? The grea—“

“Trixie, please.” Once more, Caesar cut her off. “Time’s an issue right now.” The unicorn stuck her head up once more, clearly annoyed by the interruption, but silent nonetheless.

“Derpy, this is Trixie. A magician, a unicorn, particularly good with illusions, and says she’s better at other things now, too. Trixie, Derpy Hooves.  Pegasus, mailpony, muffin aficionado, and another friend.”

“Alright, now that that you’re done with introductions, can you just show us what you wanted to show us already?” Trixie’s voice had an edge of anger and annoyance in it, understandable, given she’d been rushed across miles of land.

“In a moment.” I said to her. “There are two more ponies I want to have with us. One’s traveling the world right now for occupational reasons, so not much we can do there. The other though, is right here.” As I spoke, I gestured to the stage, on which stood a single goggle-adorned unicorn behind a turntable. The Specialist. “Vinyl Scratch, better known by her stage name, DJ P0N-3.”

“Alright, now I’m just lost.” A look of confusion appeared on Doc’s face. “You’re bringing together a doctor, a magician, a mailpony, a world traveler, a businesscolt, and a DJ? What are you trying to do with all this?”

“She’s also a bit of a gun nut,” I added. “That comes in handy later. Right now though, we need to get in conta—“

“Hey, Caesar?” This time Derpy was the one interrupting, rather than me doing it.

“Can it please wait Derpy?” I asked. “This is important.”

“But there are two yous.” She replied.

“…Are you sure that’s not just the cross-eyes?” The Doctor chimed in, the confusion now mixed with exasperation.

“No,” She said. “There’s another Ceaser right over there.” She raised a hoof, pointing across the dance floor. “Can you teach me to be in two places at once?”

My heart skipped a beat or three as I looked in the direction she gestured. There, indeed, was one of my doppelgangers. By my misfortune, he was here tonight as well.  As of yet though, it seemed through the smoke, lights and number of ponies inside the club, he hadn’t taken notice of me.

“No no no no no….get in front of me.” I hopped behind Whoof, switching his hat with my own, and putting my monocle on Trixie. Things could get very bad for both my companions and myself if the other Caesar acknowledged me. “Trixie, give me your cape.”

“What? Why?” She asked.

“I don’t think that’s what’s important right now Trixie.” Chimed in The Doctor. “What is would be why are there two of him?”

Thoughts began racing through my head like lightning, one after another. What the Removal process would involve, if simply being seen by the other Caesar meant Removal, or if contact would need to be made, how it may differ for each of us, whether or not simply changing the hat would be a suitable change to avoid recognition. All firing at once, and flying out of my mind just as quickly, before a hoof slammed into my face knocked me back into coherence.

“Are you even listening?” The voice, as well as the hoof, came from The Doctor. “There are two of you. How does that work?”

“Well, this isn’t how I intended to show you guys, but this is what I wanted to show you.” I said, climbing back up. “There are two of me. Probably more than two. I know there at least three. The same goes for all of you, as well. I’ll explain everything if you can get us somewhere secure, the backstage area for example.”

“The DJ is another one of my ventures into the entertainment business – kind of like you are Trixie, but with music instead of magic – So if you tell her you’re with me she’ll let us back. But I can’t go up there; the other Caesar can’t see me. Or if he does, it’s imperative he doesn’t know I’m him. Which is why I need you to give me your damn cloak Trixie, and why I need someone else to go get the DJ.” With a sigh, the magician pulled the cloak away from her neck, putting it over my back.

“Get so much as a single loose thread and you’re buying a new one.” She warned.

“I financed your act, I bought this one.” I shot back. “Now, can someone get the DJ? Be discrete, we don’t want any ate—“ I stopped as I looked up towards the stage, and my heart sank.

“Hi there!” Derpy had flown up onto the stage, and was now in front of the DJ. Since the music was on the LP’s in front of them, the music didn’t stop, so it wasn’t all bad, but there were plenty of ponies looking in confusion. Fortunately, the other Caesar wasn’t among them.

“Um…hi?” The DJ responded, a confused look apparent even through the goggles. “Can I…help you?” I breathed a sigh of relief. There wasn’t a mic on the DJ, only on the turntable itself, so as long as she didn’t lean forward, there wouldn’t be an issue of the conversation.

“A friend of ours says he knows you and wants to talk to all of us backstage. Is that okay?” The smile on Derpy’s face would convince a lot of people to say yes, but it’s not exactly easy to convince a performer to walk offstage with random strangers and go into their back room with them.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t just walk off. Or let you guys back there.” She said, and then turned back to the turntables.

“But, but…but Caesar’s with us!” My heart skipped another beat when Derpy mentioned my name. My eyes shot from the stage to my copy, frantic that he may have heard, though he appeared to still be unaware above the loud, pulsing sounds of the music. The DJ turned away from the vinyl discs again, and back to Derpy.

“…As in the guy who’s paying for this?” She asked.

“Yeah, yeah, he’s right over there!” She gestured in our direction as she spoke, causing the DJ to turn to see me. I waved, trying to put on a smile despite the nerves.

“…Why’s he dressed like he tripped and fell through two closets?” She asked, to which Derpy replied with a shrug. “Alright, since he’s hooving the bill, I’ll take a few minutes.” At that, she turned to the mic.

“Alright, I’m going to take a quick break to get some more vinyls for you guys. In the meantime, here’s something mellow so everypony can relax during the pause.” She switched which disc the needle was on, and then walked off the stage toward the back, Derpy following behind, flashing the three of us a gigantic smile as she did so.

“Well, I…guess that works.” I said. “Come on, let’s get out of the open before he looks over here.” The two nodded, and we followed after Derpy and the DJ, entering the backstage area.



Chapter III, Act I

Wake-up call

The backstage area was a relatively calm switch from the dance floor – Grey hallways with doors leading off to rooms. No copies to worry about, the only things living back here were employees of the venue, groupies, and us.

“Caesar, long time no see, though I wouldn’t have recognized you with the getup.” She smiled, levitating and playing with the tassel on the fez with magic. “So, what’re you here for?”

“It’s a long story,” I replied. “And one I want to discuss with you all privately. Can we go to your dressing room?” She nodded, leading us to a door farther down the hall, with the name “P0N-3” stamped on it.

She pushed open the door, and the four of us entered behind her. The room wasn’t extravagant, but neither was it mundane; three couches, assorted electronics, a keyboard, and boxes of records were all around a table, with a mirror mounted to the wall behind, and the scent of vinyl. We took a seat, as did she, pulling the goggles up off her eyes and onto her forehead as she did.

“Right, so, what’s all this about?” She asked.

“Yes, what is it all about? The Doctor echoed, the curiosity from the rest of the day stronger in his voice.

“Well, as you all saw out there,” I started. “There was another Caesar. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen another me, either. There are clones. Clones of all of us, too.” At that, I took my tophat back from the doctor, placing his fez back on his head. I reached into my hat, pulling out a set of photos that had been in a pouch inside it.

I tossed them onto the table for the others to see – photos of what appeared to be them, but different. Different lifestyles, different surroundings, different locations. But identical copies of them.

“How…how did you edit these?” The Doctor asked, a hint of nervousness now in his voice. “This is me, but…I’ve never been to an opera before…”

“Who’s this a photo of?” Derpy chimed in. “It…it looks like me, but I’m me. …Right?”

“This is what I’ve been doing ever since the Gala, where I saw two other Caesars, exactly like each other; exactly like me. I’ve been researching these duplicates, these clones, finding them in different areas, different times, different ponies, different lives, figuring out how they differ, what differences there are, and moreover, what differences there aren’t.”

“What I’ve concluded is that, in essence, we’re all clones. All different mutations of a single master piece of DNA. All engineered by a single mastermind somewhere. We’re all tools in what’s either a sick game or a sick experiment. We may have our own minds, dreams, thoughts, but that’s irrelevant to them. Those who learn the truth get thrown out, replaced with an identical copy – the same mutation, reproduced. Odds are not one of us is an original. Maybe there are some who are unique at the moment, but their strand can be replicated just as easily.”

“There are multiple copies of all of us running around, too. Equestria is populated by these clones. This Caesar is the businesscolt in front of you. Another is an accountant for a firm based out of Hoofington. Doc, that doppelganger of you in that photo is an opera singer on the other side of the planet. Derpy, that straight-eyed other you that you’re looking at is one of the Wonderbolts.”

“And these are just the ones I’ve found. For all I know, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, maybe even thousands of us, all running around living carefully calculated lives, so we never run into our doubles. And when we do, we’re replaced, because we’ve invalidated the experiment, we’ve broken the rules of the game.”

“This…this is…” The doctor stammered.

“Drunken crap is what it is.” Snapped P0N-3. “Trixie and I travel the entire world performing. How come we’ve never seen these clones?”

“Because the game master can’t have that, can they?” I pulled four photos out of the hat, tossing two to each of the entertainers. “I’ve managed to hunt down two clones of each of you.”

“Vinyl, you’re also known as a blacksmith in Fillydephia, and a cook in Fort Cloperdale. The Trixies are a seamstress, and a…pony of the night, lets call it.” Trixie’s blue coat lit up bright red from the comment, but the photo didn’t lie. “And again, if the game master caught wind of any of us doing this, or deciding things for ourselves in a way that’d jeopardize the experiments, we’d be gone, just like that.” I slammed a hoof against the floor for emphasis.

“So why are you telling us this? What do you want to do?” The Doctor asked, the concern and confusion gone, now replaced with a deadly seriousness. “We’re five ponies, what can we do against this?”

“We’re not just five ponies.” I responded. “We may all just be more copies alone, but we’re all particularly talented variants of ourselves. I’ve navigated my way through business clean and dirty, and I know how to run an operation like the back of my hoof. Doc, you’re one of the brightest, and most resourceful ponies I know. You can think on your hooves like nopony else.”

“Trixie, as I said in Foalton, you’re a damn good illusionist. Controlling what your enemy thinks is real is as powerful a weapon as any gun. You also have star power. As do you Vinyl, and of course there’s your love of firearms.”

“Derpy, you may not have the vision that you probably does, but another one of you is a damn Wonderbolt, I’d say that’s a pretty good voucher for your flying abilities.  And of course, a postal worker isn’t to be underestimated – when you control the mail, you control…information.”

“The sixth pony I wanted to bring in would be the muscle, but his job requires travel, and he’s on the other side of Equestria right now, nothing that can be done about that.”

“Alright, alright,” Chimed in Scratch. “So we’re all some sort of super team of badasses when combined. Or something. You still haven’t said what this is supposed to let us do.”

“Isn’t it obvious?” I said plainly. “This has gone on for centuries, maybe even millennia, and nobody’s noticed and lived long enough to do something. Until now. And we’re going to end this. We’re going to find this game master. We’re going to find out who they are, where they operate from, why they’re doing this, and how.”

“And we’re going to stop them. We’re going to end this twisted illusion of a reality, these preplanned lives we’ve been forced into living, these sick machinations. We’re going to give everypony what we all are born, or created as it well may be, deserving. Freedom. Choice. Individuality.”

“This is….a lot to take in.” Vinyl mentioned.

“That’s an understatement.” Added Doctor Whoof. “This is basically saying everything we know has all been some grand conspiracy. This is…crazy. Crazier than I ever expected from you.”

“You saw the second Caesar with your own eyes.” I answered. “If you want, we can go look at your doppelgangers too. My ideas of who the game master is may be conjecture, but this isn’t. This is solid fact. I’ve nothing to hide. If you don’t believe me, then you can leave and ignore everything I’ve said until now.”

This silence was the moment of truth. Whether they’d believe me. Whether they’d see what I saw, awake to what I awoke to. Every moment of silence is an eternity in which my confidence is rattled more and more. Until finally,

“I…I’ll go with you.” To my surprise, as well as everyone else, the one who chimed up was Derpy, of all of them. “I…I don’t really understand, but…but I want Dinky to get to…choose her own life…I don’t want some big mean game master picking it for her. Besides, people say I say crazy things all the time, this doesn’t seem so crazy. And if…if one of me is a Wonderbolt…I want to be able to do that too. I could be so much better with the mail if I could move like that…”

I smiled. It was a start, with probably the least skeptic of the group, but a start nonetheless. “Thank you Derpy. It’s good to have a friend onboard. The rest of you?”

“…What the hell.” This time it was Vinyl Scratch. “The world can live without one DJ for a few months if you’re wrong, and if you’re right, I’m not going on someone else’s path. I’m taking my path. This could be the biggest thing ever, and I’m going to be on the right side if I’m on one.”

Next was Trixie. “Count me in. If nothing else, this…tramp…is ruining my name. If she’s doing it because she thinks it funny, I’ll make her pay. And if not, I’ll make whoever decided I’d make a good skank pay.”

The stoic expression on my face had faded from view, a grin now taking its place. “Well, doc? That just leaves you.” There was a moment of silence, during which he stared at the photos again.

“If you’re wrong, I don’t think I need to tell you how cross I’ll be. If you’re right, there’s no way I’m letting this stand. I’m in.”

The grin widened. All four were with me. I only needed Engi, and the team would be complete, but we could start as we are.

“Wonderful, I’m honoured to have you all with me.”


Chapter IV, Act I


“So,” Trixie said. “Now what?”

“Now,” I answered. “We need an escape route. As said, one of my doppelgangers is out there, which is…bad.”

“Leave that to me.” This time it was Vinyl who chimed in. “I’ll give them a light show, nobody’ll notice one pony moving in the background.” I nodded in agreement.

“Alright, we’ll meet at my home in three hours to discuss moving forward. Derpy, Doc, you both know where it is, each of you show one of our entertainers the way.” They nodded, Derpy a little more energetically than the Doctor.

“The DJ’s been out a long time for just getting something new to play.” The comment came from one of the ponies sitting at one of the tables in the nightclub. There were three in total at the table, a filly with caramel-coloured hair and a yellow mane, a white Pegasus colt with a blue mane, and a particular tophat-adorned pony.

“Relax Brolly,” The tophat-wearing pony said. “It’s not that big a deal; if it’s for a good bit of music, I don’t mind waiting. Besides, it’s nice to hear something mellow once in a while.”

As he finished speaking, the DJ walked back out onstage, carrying a small stack of records with her. “See? I told you that it wasn’t any big deal.”

“Alright, hope you all enjoyed that break.” The DJ spoke into the microphone, right as the calm, ambient track faded out. “We’re back now though, so lets get something with some energy!”

At that, she lifted one of the vinyl discs off the turntable, placing one from the stack on it. The beat hit as the needle fell, the multi-coloured lights moving in time in a grand, rhythmic show. All eyes were drawn towards the stage, as it should be in a good show.

“Alright, now’s your cue.” I nodded as Whoof spoke. I had my tophat and monocle back, and Trixie had her cloak again, so if I was spotted by the other Caesar, there was little doubt he’d recognize me. I had to hope he wouldn’t though…no, I had to know he wouldn’t. The results if he did could be disastrous. There wasn’t room to screw up.

“Alright, I’m off. Remember, three hours.” The three with me nodded, and I took one last, deep breath of air. It was time to run.

With multiple lights swinging every which way in different colours, and ponies dancing all about, it was easy enough to move undetected. Not hitting anything was the tricky part. Still, occasionally bumping into somepony on the dance floor wasn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence, so most wouldn’t bat an eye as Caesar ran through the crowd, hooves flying as fast as his heart was beating, a remarkable feat given its pace.

Vinyl kept a steady, goggle-hidden eye on his escape from the stage, doing as much to avoid the lights shining conspicuously on him as possible. “Come on,” She muttered under her breath. “Not too much farther…”

The steady, heady light of the street lamps above shined from the stairway to the door into Caesar’s eyes as he neared it, the proximity of escape only causing his nerves to heighten.

“So close…” The words echoed in my thoughts, nothing else accompanying them - My mind was bare, save for these simple thoughts. I was running on adrenaline, not thinking, just running as fast as I could for the door. For once, there wasn’t any planning, any theories about the Game Master, anything other than the simple thought to keep running, and a few words echoing. It was pleasant, in a way.

“Almost….this whole affair of getting caught is almost just a nerve-wracking memo—“ I never did finish that thought. So focused at escape, I slammed headfirst, full-speed into the club’s bouncer, who was none too happy about it.

“Can I help you?” The irritation on the bouncer’s voice was clear, as was the fact he was holding back a strong urge to hit a certain pony in the face. Hard.

“I-I’m just…on my way out. Nothing more, nothing less.” Caesar answered.

“Uh-huh.” He spoke with suspicion. “Because ponies who’re just leaving run like that. Yer’ lucky I’m a big guy, punk – if I were a tiny thing like you, someone would’ve been hurt.” As the words came from his mouth, he lifted the pony in the hat, pulling the smaller colt to an eye-to-eye level with him. “And someone’s gonna’ get hurt if you keep lyin’. Now why were you runnin’ like a convict?”

There was a moment of silence, the music filling it. Caesar took a breath in, nodding in defeat. “Alright, fine.” He said. “I was running be…” The expression of defeat on his face turned to one of confusion.

“…The hell is that?” He gestured behind the bouncer as he spoke. The larger colt turned his head, at which point, regret and annoyance on his face, the colt in the tophat bit down on the bouncer’s arm. He cried out in pain, dropping his “friend” as he did so. Now free of his grip, Caesar took off once more, again going as fast as he could, up the stairs and out the door.

“Son of a…” The guard stammered as he watched, well-aware that with the headstart, a larger colt like himself wouldn’t be able to catch the smaller, more agile runner. “Good riddance, I signed up to keep that out, not in.”

I finally felt my body calming down as I ran got out of the club. I was away from the other Caesar, without being noticed, away from being caught, away from being Removed. I felt safe in the night air, the open streets. I could finally relax for a few hours. None of my friends had doppelgangers in the club tonight, they were safe.

For now, everything was back on-course. I began heading back to my house, to prepare for the others, to show them what I’d found, and preparing it all in an understandable manner to seal their confidence. Three hours time was plenty for my needs.

As I walked the emptying streets, I spat, the blood of the bouncer still on my tongue. The only other time I’d ever tasted blood was when I’d bitten my own tongue, yet for some reason this was worse. So much so, it was all I could do to keep a straight face. It was fitting in a way though, as it served as a metaphorical and literally bitter reminder that the path we were venturing down was not pleasant, not easy, and above all, not safe by any standards.

I didn’t care though. This was something that had to be stopped, and we were the only ones who could do it. The dangers simply needed to be dealt with, then once safe, the remnants removed, as I did now.

My mouth now clean, I breathed in the cool night air. It was a chilly night, the dark, damp cold of the silent, empty, grey cobblestone streets a stark contrast to the packed club, filled with lights, ponies, smoke, and rhythm. The echo of my hooves on the ground was almost calming, in a way. A familiar, natural, relaxed feeling instead of the racing pulse of the music.

“Caesar, you okay?” The voice came from a concerned Brolly, whose friend had been transfixed on the exit for the past few minutes. “Caesar?”

The one in-question shook his head, as if to clear a fog inside it, then turned back to his friends. “Sorry, I…I think I’ve had too much to drink. I could’ve sworn I saw…me over there.” The comment was greeted with cheery laughter, both of the other two at the table raising their drinks in toast.

“It may be a good idea to slow down then,” Carrot Top, the other at the table, replied. “We don’t want you having too much, now. Remember what happened last time?” The three erupted into another round of laughter.

“That’s a morning I don’t want to remember again…” The Caesar said, a smile now on his face. “My head still hurts from it.”

“Mine too.” Carrot Top shot back.

“Alright, well, I’m going to get going then.” He said, finishing his drink before continuing. “If I get that bad, I want to do it safe back home. Night guys.” The two nodded, waving as he walked away from the table, across the dance floor and towards the exit. As he did though, the bouncer stopped him.

“You!” He snapped. “Why you…wait…didn’t you leave?” The look of anger was replaced with one of confusion.

“I…did?” The look of confusion spread.

“What kinda’ mind game you playin’ here, pal? …Actually, you know what, I don’t want to know. Just get the hell out of here. I don’t want to see you again tonight, or I’ll be the one biting your legs.” The look of indignation on Caesar’s face turned to one of disgust.

“You’re threatening to bite me now?! Pray you’re not here next time I come in, or I’m having a word with the manager!” At that, he stormed out, disgruntled, to put it mildly. As he walked though, the anger faded, replaced by more confusion and concern. The bouncer seemed to have indeed been dealing with another one of him. Just like he had seen when he looked over there.

It was absurd, but it seemed like there was a second Caesar. “It can’t be though.” He reasoned. “That…that’s just silly. I need to lie down…” As he walked through the deserted streets, the emptiness and the silence echoing the sounds of his hooves against the bare cobblestone only served to feed his paranoia. A stark contrast to the relief it gave a similar colt.


Chapter V, Act I

Lunacy, Rationalized

I sat, staring at the clock, not wavering even to blink. My eyes burned from the effort, but my mind was running so rapidly that the only action I had time to do was breathe before my neck spun back to some timepiece. Two short minutes until they arrived. A click. Now one.

As I waited, I still ran through the escape over and over, trying to think if there was any point my copy saw me at. There were none, as far as I could tell. I couldn’t be certain though, and I had to hope if he saw me, he’d assume he was seeing things.

Click. The time was upon me now; they’d be here any minute. I glanced away from the clock, to the wall I had pinned all the photos and notes onto, before shooting back to the clock. Any minute now…

“It…it was just my mind playing tricks on me, right?” The Caesar in the empty streets spoke to himself in a nervous tone, still unsure of what to make of what he had seen. “It had to be…two of me, that’s…that’s absurd! …Right?”

As he spoke to himself, words echoed through the empty Manehattan streets. “How much farther?” A female voice asked in an exasperated tone. “I’m a magician, not a runner, I didn’t agree to run for miles to get all the way here in two hours, and then walk back to Caesar’s whenever he has some crazy idea when I let him finance the act!” A single word from the whining rung in Caesar’s ears. Namely, his name.

“Will you just shut up already?” Another female voice chimed in. “Cee’s paying for our acts, one evening isn’t a lot to pay for that, is it? Honestly, it’s a miracle somepony like you can stand life on the road at all…” Caesar slowly crept closer, inching his way towards the group to get a better ear, back against a wall.

“Excuse me?!” The first voice came back, exasperation replaced with indignation. “Are you daring to suggest that somepony like you, who’s pass at entertainment is playing with other people’s music, is more capable at tolerating being a performer than the Great and Powerful Trixie?! I’ve never…” The voice trailed off into incoherent yelling, interlaced with obscenities, before there was a loud banging noise.

“Will you shut up?! Some of us are trying to sleep!” The voice this time was male, and came from above, probably from an apartment window of a stallion woken up by the whining. The item that had caused the bang was still a mystery, though not for long, as a few moments later, a metal trash can slammed hard into Caesar’s face.

He hit the ground, stunned a moment from the impact. As he slowly centered himself once more, he noticed his monocle was broken, and his hat was missing.

“The nerve of some ponies…” The whining voice said softly. Caesar glanced around for his hat. It was sitting right beneath a streetlight, its black presence in the center of the yellow light oddly somber.

“Doc, is she always this whiny?” The voice was once again feminine, but this time came from a different pony than the last two. “Somehow, I get a bad feeling so, Derpy.” Another voice, this time masculine, said in response. Caesar caught the hat in the light, running towards it.

“I hate you both right now…” The first voice said. Caesar kept heading toward the hat.

“Can we please all just focus on getting where we’re going to instead of fighting for--” The second voice cut itself off, as Caesar slowed to a stop, picking up his tophat and putting it back on. As he turned to return to his following distance though, he realized an issue. Specifically, he was now in plain view of the ponies he had been following. A sickening silence floated in the air as they stared at each other, not sure how to react.

“…That’s…” A blue pony, and the owner of the first voice, said, before being signaled to be silent by another with a tan coat. “Were you following us?” He said.

“I…well…you mentioned my name, I figured that you—“ He stammered as he spoke, trying to cover his story without being obvious, and at the same time dancing around an uneasiness in his throat.

“We did?” The tan-coated pony said again to Caesar. “Who are you then?”

“C-Caesar.” He answered. “I work as a accountant. I’m sure you mentioned my name?”

“I think it must be a different Caesar then, you don’t look familiar. Two ponies with the same name isn’t that odd, is it?”

“I…I suppose not…” He replied.

“Off with you then, I’ve no issue with a mistake, but I don’t like ponies who follow others around like this.” Caesar nodded, walking off down the street in the opposite direction. “I do need help…” He thought to himself. “Following others, eavesdropping, I need rest…”

A few yards away the tan-coated pony turned to the others he was with. “An accountant, that’s what Caesar said one of his doubles was…maybe it’s not so crazy…”

There was a knock at my door. It was a half-hour after when the others were supposed to be here, I was shocked that The Doctor of all people was so late. I walked over, opening the door, the four from before standing on my doorstep.

“Sorry we’re late,” Vinyl said. “We ran into a…friend. Said his name was Caesar.” A chill went down my spine as I heard my name. Apparently the look on my face showed my uneasiness, as she nodded in response.

“That’s…interesting. Did anything…happen?” I asked nervously.

“No, he walked off after we explained it was a misunderstanding.”

I nodded, still concerned, but less so. “Alright, come in, come in. We have a lot to discuss.” I motioned to my side, and the four entered.

“You already have the basic idea from before.” I said, walking around the wall I had my theories on. “Hopefully speaking to another me is enough to convince you I’m not crazy.  You all saw your pictures, and there are others, but that’d take too long to go through all of, I could ramble about all this for all night. Instead, I’ll cut straight to the point.”

“We’re going to start ‘looking into’ our potential Game Masters. We’re going to need to act quickly if we want to have any chance of success. I have a grand total of five current suspected Game Masters.” At that, I tore an envelope off of the wall, pulling a set of photos out of it and handing them to the four.

“Whoever the Game Master is, based on the actions I’ve been able to discern them dictating, they wouldn’t be able to resist becoming a leader in whatever group they’re in, even if it makes them more suspect. As such, most of these are in leadership positions.”

“The first is a pony way out in Appleloosa named Silverstar. He’s the Sheriff there, and while that doesn’t seem like much, the Sheriff is pretty much singlehandedly the law in frontier towns like this. Match the fact a relatively obscure frontier town is small enough for him to go undetected, but still feel in-charge, and the lack of duplicates there, and it’s the only frontier town that seems like the Game Master could be there.”

“The second Bastion Yorsets, one of the head professors at the School for Gifted Unicorns. The entire staff is actually under suspicion, but Yorsets is second only to the headmaster, hence why they’re under his name here. The power of the position speaks for itself, and if they’re intelligent enough to play the Game Master, they’d be intelligent enough to get around Celestia, they’d have access to the resources.”

“The third is Photo Finish, the photographer. This woman essentially controls the entirety of the clothing industry; the power factor is there, as is the ego. I’ve worked with her in business before, so I can assure you she has more resources than anyone would guess. And I probably don’t know all of what she has, either.”

“Fourth is Princess Luna. This is really as a precaution more than it is for actual investigation – She’s been gone for too long to accurately control the experiment. There’s a chance, if she’s the Game Master, that even on the moon she could control things somehow, but it’s unlikely. Still, she’s second in power only to her sister, and she definitely has access to the resources.”

“Wait a minute.” Whoof chimed in. “Please don’t tell me you’re going to say who I think you are as the fifth?”

“Knowing you, I do believe you’re correct.” I answered.

“The fifth, is Princess Celestia herself. She’s been alive long enough that she never would’ve needed to rely on cloning herself, she has the leadership position, she has the resources, if it weren’t for the fact there’s nothing shady about her, she’d be a perfect match. You shouldn’t be able to keep something like this secret so long with her position though. Or at least without anything slipping out.”

“You do realize that one, and probably Princess Luna as well, is treasonous, right?” This time Vinyl was the one speaking.

“I’m well-aware. But I’d say if they’re the one, I wouldn’t mind backstabbing them.”

“Okay, so we have a list of maybes.” Whoof once more. “Who do we start with?”

“Photo Finish.” I replied. “She’ll be in-town tomorrow. We’ll gather what information we can, and if we can do so discretely, we’ll ask her a few questions.”

“I assume you have some sort of plan? We’re not just going in like an uncoordinated gaggle of idiots?” Trixie was the one speaking this time, annoyance in her voice.

I nodded. “Of course.”

“Is Doctor Herald in?” Caesar asked at the door of a large medical office. “I know it’s late, but…I think I need help mentally.” A few moments later, a pony with a brown coat opened the door.

“Caesar, what’s wrong?” He said in a concerned voice. “And…why is your tophat damaged? Where’s your monocle?”

“It’s a…long story.” The gray pony replied. “But I don’t know if it’s because of what I had to drink, but I think I’m starting to see things.”

“I…I think I saw two of somepony.”  The look of concern on the doctor’s face turned much sterner.

“…Exactly alike?” He asked, to which Caesar nodded.

“Identical. I know it sounds crazy, but…” He stared off into the empty streets as he spoke. As he stared off, Herald reached one hoof behind the wall of the building, lifting a pane of glass and pressing a small, discrete button.

“Come in, it sounds like you’re a little out of your head. I should have something for that.” Caesar nodded, entering the building, closing the door behind himself. A single, fatal mistake.  “Right then, I believe what you need…is right here.”

As Herald spoke, there was a stinging sensation in Caesar’s neck; a needle. Within moments, he was on the ground, incapacitated, but still very aware, and very awake. The doctor sighed, shaking his head.

“Poor, poor Caesar...” He said. “I never really like doing this to my patients, but it can’t be helped when you see a copy…I am one of the city’s monitors for any of these mishaps after all, this is a duty above medicine…”

“Truly a shame, you were a pleasant enough fellow. However the Game can’t be interrupted. There will be a group here for your collection and Removal within the hour, please don’t make too much fuss if the drug starts to wear off before then.” The pony on the ground stared up, his expression frozen and unchanged, but the thoughts going through his head clear enough.


Chapter I, Act IV

The Game Master

“So, surprised?” the Game Master asked. I stammered for a moment, unable to speak from fear. Also form surprise that I was still alive, to some degree. “I’m surprised I wasn’t top on your list, given what you took as criteria for me.”

“I..I…”I managed to start. “I…t-thought it was…t-t-too obvious.” With every single word I wanted to smack myself. This was what I had been wanting, but when it actually arrived for me, I was barely able to speak. The Game Master laughed, hitting my chin lightly with their hoof.

“Don’t tell me this is that whole ‘it’s never the most likely suspect’ junk from television? That whole concept is inherently stupid, little one – the most likely suspect is most likely for a reason. Because it makes sense for it to be them. For example, now.” I couldn’t tell if they were mocking me or not.

“I…Then…w-what happens now?” I asked, not entirely sure I wanted to hear an answer.

“Now?” they replied. “Not a whole lot. You continue your little duck hunt, and I continue enjoying it, helping along.”

“Then…wait…helping? …Enjoying?”

“You haven’t figured it out yet?” the Game Master asked. “I suppose it’s not really that surprising, you’re not exactly the sharpest tack…”

“I was sharp enough to piece this all together so far.” I shot back. The response I received wasn’t one I expected. A laugh.

“You really haven’t figured it out then. Tell me something – did you really, at no point, think ‘this is all going a little too well’? Nobody at your company questions why you disappeared when you holed yourself up to research all this? A clone of you gives you perfect evidence when you’re trying to convince others? That clone never says anything to anyone  about that night, or at all for that matter, again? After you fail to convince your friend, he happens to find a clone of himself to convince him?  That clone, a trained killer, manages to lose a duel with your friend? None of this ever seemed odd to you? A little too convenient?”

“You were able to put all this together, and your deception of your little friend Photo Finish was impressive, I admit. But if I wanted you dead, you would’ve been Removed weeks ago. Hell, I was thinking of doing it at the party, but then I decided otherwise.”

I stood there, silent, the words washing away the fear I had and replacing it with a strange feeling. That same feeling I had when I discovered all this, that everything, was a lie, pre-planned, and mapped out. That I had no actual say. And it was still true.

“Thank you, and please come again!” An enthusiastic Mrs. Cake said, happily sliding the bits away in the cash register. On the store counter in front of her were two boxes with chocolate cakes inside. The cross-eyed mare on the other side of the counter picked the boxes up in her teeth by the drawstrings.

“Thankth Mitheth Cake!” She said, her words being slurred by the clenched teeth and the strings from the boxes. Mrs. Cake nodded in response.

“See you around. You too, girls!” The second part was addressed not at Derpy, but instead to the pinkish unicorn, and the tiny, light purple filly who were with Derpy. The larger of the two nodded, returning the smile, while the smaller one hopped up and down, grinning widely.

“…Why?” was all I could muster.

“Pardon?” they said.

“Why?” I repeated. “Why leave me then?”

“Because it’s fun to watch.” Came the reply. “I’ve been alive for millennia. Orchestrating billions of lives daily gets old after you’ve been doing it for thousands of years. The occasional discovery and attempt at rebellion mixes things up a bit, so I let them live a little on borrowed time every few hundred years.” The words hung in the air for a moment, my mind racing with each and every one.

“What?” the Game Master started back up. “You thought you were the first to discover all this?” silence was my response – I had literally no words at this point, the only things going through my mind were what was going on and how to recover. If I could recover. “There’ve been hundreds like you. Even if you run a good ship, you still have leaks that need sealing now and then.”

“There have been others, but all of them have failed. They either stopped being amusing, and got stupid and boring, so were thrown out, or were getting too close, so were put down. As our meeting should show, you’re the latter.”

“…Thrown out?” I finally managed, anger starting to overcome fear. “Thrown out? We’re disposable to you?”

“Yes.” Was the reply. An unsurprising one, too. “I can create five new Caesars in a day. If I have your brain to work from, I can imprint them each with your memories in a week total. They always act a little different, but orchestration of events helps make that just seem like personality quirks.”

“You never thought that maybe those ‘personality quirks’ were individuality? That maybe we’re more than just copies running routes?”

“I did. Then I decided I didn’t care. You’re all so short-lived, I didn’t really have reason to worry about making you happy instead of making me happy, or making sure I don’t get jeopardized.”

“You know, it’s funny, you protesting this idea of how disposable you really are – I almost wanted to get rid of you altogether when you found out. At first I just didn’t feel like putting up with this whole thing again. I was about to have you taken care of – an electrical fire in the night would do nicely. Delay the fire department a few minutes, seal your doors magically, and it’d seem you burnt to death in your sleep. Papers would probably say you didn’t awaken because you took some sleeping pills or something. Very probable with you running a technology company, too. But curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to let you live, see where this took you.”

 “So then…it’s all been staged?” I asked, still in disbelief.

“Yes. Well, most of it anyways.” The Game Master replied. “There have just been too many stupid mistakes by you that got too risky of ruining everything. In a dangerous way, too. So, I made sure you’d have success when you were teetering on failure.”

“I…I…” I was at a loss for words again.

“I expected you to be flustered, but not this badly. Come on, a gentlecolt should be able to speak to a lady smoothly, regardless of the situation.” She said.

“Don’t mock me. “ I shot back.

“Ooh, snippy.” She said with interest. “It’s been so long since I tried something like this, I’d forgotten how cocky you all can get sometimes.”

“Mom, can I ask you something?” the pinkish unicorn asked. She was carrying the boxes over her back now, freeing up Derpy’s mouth.

“Sure.” The cross-eyed Pegasus replied.

“What exactly have you been doing lately? Dinky and I never see you, and when we do, like now, it’s only for a few hours.” The grey mailmare stopped for a minute, the words clearly hitting her hard. “…Mom? Are you alright?” the pink unicorn asked.

“I’m fine.” She replied, still not entirely there.

“Mommy? What’s wrong?” it was the small, purplish one this time that spoke, tugging at Derpy’s tail, a sad look on her face.

“Nothing’s wrong Dinky.” She said, leaning down and picking the little foal up, at least one of her eyes focusing on her. “I just…I’ve been working late.”

“Really?” Amethyst Star said, confused. “But you never work late. Half the time you come home early…”

“It’s a really big thing.” Derpy replied. “Really, really big.”

“…Can you tell us what?” she asked again. There was a pause before Derpy spoke again, a sad look on her face as she responded.

“…No. They said it’s really important it’s a secret. …I’m really sorry.” There was a tense moment, before the pink unicorn walked over to her mother, wrapping a leg around her and giving her a quick hug.

“It’s alright – you wouldn’t keep it from us unless you had to.” The two separated, both now wearing faint smiles instead of looks of dejection. “For all your quirks, you’re always honest.” The comment made Derpy’s smile broaden, and drew a few giggles from her mouth.

“I love you.” She said. “Both of you.”

Promontory yawned, opening his door and trotting out lethargically. He was having trouble getting to sleep, and was walking towards Caesar’s room. After all, he owned the place, if anyone knew where he could find something to help him sleep, it would be him.

As he walked over in the darkness though, he bumped into another pony, who, being smaller, fell over, even in spite of how slowly Promontory was moving. Moments later a burst of pinkish light shot out of a horn, giving a faint light to the hallway, as well as the faces of both Promontory, and the pony he had knocked into, whos horn was currently glowing. Trixie.

“Watch where you’re going, you brute!” she snapped at him. Though she was speaking in a whisper since the others were likely asleep, there was still an odd feeling as if she was yelling at him.

“Apologies, meant no harm, ma’m.” Promontory said sluggishly.

“That’s ‘The Great and Powerful Trixie, to you!” she snapped yet again.

“Relax, Ah’m just lookin’ fer’ somethin’ to help me sleep, I didn’t mean to cause any fuss with ‘The Great n’ Powerful Trixie.” She turned her nose up at him, clearly still upset.

“Well it’s a shame you didn’t find them, because now I’m wide awake from getting tackled by you!”

“Ah’ didn’t tackle ya, Miss Trixie.” She didn’t respond, and the two stood for a moment in silence. “…Well, ah’ best keep lookin’ then. Sorry ‘bout all that. G’night, and, take care a’ yerself, I guess.” He said, before turning.

“…Wait.” Trixie said as Promontory began walking away. “I…I have some sleeping pills in my room. I always keep them because I have trouble sleeping while traveling. I…you can borrow some if it’ll help.” Promontory turned around, a smile now on his tired face.

“That’s mighty kind of ya’, Miss Trixie.”

“Just don’t tell anyone. Got it?” Promontory nodded, and Trixie began walking back to her room, the engineer following behind.


Chapter II, Act IV

The Game Master

“So then it really is a game to you.” I stared into the Game Master’s eyes, a burning rage in my gaze.

“Your title for me was unwittingly apt.” Her own eyes met mine, equaling my rage with her playful condescension. “It’s not so bad,” she started. “You don’t have to worry about being killed through incident or random murder or anything, and you get to do what you want.”

“…Wait, what?” the rage disappeared from my eyes in an instant, replaced with genuine confusion. “…You’re not going to kill me? …You’re going to let me work towards uncovering you? …Why?”

“Because, what fun is a game without a little risk?”

“So we’ll see you again in a week?” Derpy nodded, a grin across her face. The three were standing at the door of a modest-looking house, with the two fillies inside, Amethyst star holding one cake box, and Derpy standing outside with the other. “Alright then. Goodnight mom.” As she finished, Dinky ran forward, jumping onto Derpy.

“Hurry home, mommy!” she said. Amethyst pulled the little foal off of her mother, setting her on the ground next to her.

“Easy, Dinky, mommy has work to do.” The tiny unicorn nodded, the smile still on her face, albeit looking somewhat dejected now.

“We love you mommy, and we want you back really really really soon!” she piped back up. With one last smile and nod, Derpy turned around, heading back to Caesar’s house.

“Alright, you’re a lot bigger than me, so I figure you should be fine with two.”  Promontory stared at the two small pills and the glass of water next to them as thoughtfully as one could tired.

“Yer’ sure it’s alright for me to borrow these?” he asked.

“I don’t even use a full bottle every year. I can stand to give two away.” Trixie replied. “And don’t use ‘borrow’ for this – I’m not exactly keen on getting them back.” The comment pulled a chuckle from Promontory.

“Much obliged, Miss Trixie.” At that, he gulped down the sleeping pills before following them with the water.

“I’m…sorry.” She whispered.

“Hunh?” Promontory asked, not having heard.

“I’m…I’m sorry about what I said about you in Appleloosa, about being all muscle, no mind. I’ve…a while back a pony at one of my shows ended up making me look like an arrogant jerk, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I’ve been trying to be…nicer.”

“Ya’ don’t really seem like it with Caesar and the others.” Promontory replied.

“Yeah, well, Caesar I’ve known for a while. I’m comfortable enough around him to know he knows better. The others…I don’t want to seem soft. I learned a while back that if you want anything, you have to put on a tough face.”

“Yet here ya’ are, confidin’ in an idiot about all this.”

I-I just-“ Trixie stammered, her blue coat turning red around her face. “You’re the only one I felt bad about talking to like that, so you’re the only one I felt like apologizing too!”

“Ah’m sorry Miss Trixie, ah didn’t think—“

“Damn right you didn’t think!” She cut off. “get out already. The nerve of some ponies, you help them out, then apologize to them, and they try to make you feel bad…” There was a moment of silence, before Promontory nodded.

“Alright, ah’m sorry. Still don’t see what ah did that was so horrible, but ah’ll take yer word for it fer’ now. Ah’m gonna head back to mah room ‘fore these things kick in, if ya’ want ta’ talk again, just let me know.” At that, he turned around, walking out the door. A few moments later, an angry-looking Vinyl Scratch walked up to the doorframe, her eyes red and her face tired.

“Will you shut up with the yelling?!” she demanded. “Some of us are trying to sleep! …Also, let me know if you see The Doctor, I’ve been needing to ask him something. He never seems to be around…” With that, she slammed the door, before walking away, leaving Trixie to sit alone on her bed.

“So then…you’ve lost me.” I said simply. “You’re…here to tell me that you...want me to carry on investigating you? Even though you kill ponies for doing that?”

“Yes.” The Game Master replied.

“Because…it’s fun?”

“Yes.” She said again.

“I…don’t follow.”

“That’s because you’re very…what’s the word…young is too innocent…short-lived, I suppose would work. It gets boring being live for as long as I have – I’ve run this world for thousands of years, just having everything go as neatly as planned is, well, boring. Again, you’re too short-lived to understand.”

“You, and others like you, have been a pleasant way of mixing things up. Seeing what you do, how far you go, who you bring, how they react, comparing you to the last one who tried, things like that. You’re my little fun excursion – my ‘game’ if you will, which is why I still love the name you gave me.”

“So then why tell me all this?” I asked. “You’re invalidating the game.”

“One part of it, yes.” She answered. “There’s still your friends. I can still watch what they do, and it’ll still be valid. I’ll just choose a path one of the others went on for you.”

“So you want me to join in what you do? In guiding ponies how you want them to?”

“I guess you could say that. I prefer to think of it as suggesting how to do your job, with strong incentives in a certain direction.”

“Go to hell, and take your offer with you.” I replied flatly. “I’d rather you replace us all with copies now than let us entertain you for a few weeks, just to be replaced then.” To my surprise, my words drew a laugh.

“You want to stay the course. I like that. But I’m not going to replace you. A life of agony is worse punishment than death, don’t you think? I’d kill them. Every single one of your little friends, and make you watch, unable to do anything.” Every single word sent dread through my body. It only got worse from there though. “Then I’d kill their families. Or maybe let them live with someone they love gone, not knowing why. I’m not sure which one would torture you more. Speaking of torture, maybe I wouldn’t make you even watch in-person, but would take you away, make it so you could’ve done something, but couldn’t. And all the while I’ll give you a little ‘lesson’ of your own. We could have a lot of fun too, with all the knowledge I’ve gathered on ‘playing’ with you little things over the years – did you know that your heart hasn’t been beating this whole time? I’ve been keeping the blood in your body pumping via magic. Yes, I think I like the second one better.”

“Then I’d destroy all the evidence left that you’d dug up. Maybe drop you back into society, or maybe alert the authorities of what you’ve been up to with an anonymous tip, then pin the deaths on you so everything is capped off with life imprisonment…yes, I do like how this is going. You’d be left with all this on your mind, nobody who would believe you, and a lifetime to think about how your crusade went wrong.”

“See what I’m getting at? You have a choice, but the consequences…well, they’ll be fun for one of us, at least.”

“You…” I muttered. Once again, I was at a loss for words. “You…you’re…you’re an evil, heartless bitch, you know that?” again, the comments drew laughter.

“I’m well-aware. And I love it.”

“Anyway, you now know what I came to tell you. Keep going on the path you had started on before I arrived, and we won’t have any problems. I’ll contact you again if you do anything wrong, give you a chance to ‘atone’ before doing…well, we already discussed it, and I look forward to it too much to be brief about it.” With that, there was a fog, and when it cleared, she had left. I could finally think about what had been said, alone.

Not for as long as I had hoped though.

“And one more thing.” A voice whispered into my ear. I spun my head to see who was behind me, before being grabbed at the neck. “Lets get something clear. If you want them to live, then you’re going to watch your tongue, because right now you’re my toy, and toys that call their owner a bitch get replaced. Are we clear?”

“Y-yes…” I managed through clenched teeth.

“Yes who?” she demanded.

“Yes…you evil bitch.”

“Wrong answer.” At that, she pulled at my neck harder, a sharp pain and a cracking sound running through my body. I was pretty sure she had just broken my neck, but was keeping me alive with magic, similar to the blood. As I proceeded to learn, a broken neck is pretty painful if you live through it.

“Yes princess!” I shouted through the pain. Even through closed eyelids, I could see a grin on her face.

“Good.” She replied. At once, I felt her let go of my neck, and a strange, mending feeling run through it, the pain disappearing. It seemed she was equally capable of repairing necks as breaking them.

“If your suffering for breaking our little deal is a meal, that was licking the spoon. The worst is very far off.” At that, a cloud of smoke appeared once more. This time, she was gone, and I was left alone, neck repaired and heart once more beating frantically.

That was…holy…that…wow.” My mind wasn’t quite back in working order yet, as thoughts were speeding through faster than ever. One thing was clear though – I needed to think of something, and I was treading on thin ice. I shook my head as if to clear it of the mixed-up thoughts. After a moment, I reached over to a small messaging device. A moment later, an identical device rang in Vinyl’s room.

“Mmmph…what is it?” she asked, clearly trying to get to sleep, her voice muffled by a pillow.

“Vinyl, it’s Caesar.” I said.

“Dammit, first Trixie, now you…can’t I just sleep?”

“What? No, Vinyl – look, just…just gather everyone outside my office, alright? I need to discuss something with the team.”

“Fine…fine…I haven’t seen Doc in a while, can he…not be there?”

“Yeah, sure, fine.” I replied. I honestly had forgotten the specifics of the members of the team, even though they were my friends. I was still lost trying to process what had happened.

“So…why did you call us all here? …And out of bed?” Vinyl asked, one of her forelegs wrapped around a small plush toy. Four of the others were standing before me, in the hallway outside of my office. The walls were a lime green, with a hardwood floor that had a rug running down it. A single light mounted to the roof lit the dim hall. All were there outside of The Doctor, Who was absent. He always seemed to be doing something important. Seemed to like the phone booth down the street when he needed to make a call, too. Derpy had just gotten in, and had some sort of box over her back.

“I’ve made some…progress…on the latest samples we collected.” I replied. It wasn’t entirely a lie, I really had made some progress. It was just overshadowed by, well, everything falling to the ground.


“The sheriff isn’t our Game Master.” There was a cumulative sigh from the others.

“You’re sure this is all real?” Trixie asked.

“Of course.” I replied. “Positive.”

“Because the evidence seems to point otherwise. Maybe we just saw similar-looking ponies, not these clones you think.” Vinyl added.

“Just…look, I have a good feeling about this next one, alright? Please just stick with me on this? If I’m wrong again, we can all pretend this never happened.” An uncomfortable quiet stuck in the air, before what seemed like a mix between shrugs and nods from the others.

“We’ve narrowed the list down to the princesses, and the heads of the School for Gifted Unicorns. I don’t have a plan to get at the former, but I do have one for the latter, so that’s where we’ll go.”

“And what is this plan exactly?” Trixie asked.

“Simple, really.” I replied.