The Epic Quest of the Brave Warriors in Search of the Mystic Treasure of the Forgotten City in the Distant Realm of the Lost Lands of the Fearsome Dragon King of Death
Some Ponies Play D&D
Grimstar the Black, mighty wizard of the southern deserts, squinted into the hazy distance of the enchanted forest. He was tall and thin, and the dark indigo robes he wore were covered with eldritch symbols. Sweat beaded on the jet black skin of his forehead as his staff pulsed with mystic energies, scanning the landscape for danger. After the mysterious disappearance of their prodigal companion, he was determined to defend his party. They were five strong, now: himself, the elvish rogue, the halfling cleric, the bard, and the barbarian, who was now approaching the wizard with the carcass of a stag slung over his shoulder.
“Ho, Grimstar!” he said, “There is much sport in these woods!” He was a mountain unto himself, with rippling muscles, broad shoulders, and a dark, penetrating gaze. His enormous broadsword clinked against his gleaming silver mail as he hefted the stag.
“Aye, that there is,” the wizard replied, “and much danger as well. I fear for the safety of our feminine companions.”
“What is there to be a-feared?” said the barbarian, depositing his game on the forest floor with a muscular shrug, “They are mighty heroes, all. Though, perhaps,” he said with a jocular grin, “not as mighty as myself!”
“Indeed, few are as strong as the celebrated Bloodcrusher Killthrust.” the wizard said, “But I have much doubt of our ability to survive the Catacombs of the Damned without the aid of a sixth stout soul.”
“Then perchance we are in luck!” said Killthrust, “For I think I espy a dwarf!”
“As do I.” said Grimstar, “Mayhap he will join our quest. Greetings, friend!” he addressed the dwarf, who seemed lost in the woods. “We are in need of a brave warrior such as yourself. Would you join in our quest to find the lair of the Dragon King?”
There was an awkward pause. “Uh,” said the dwarf, “Okay, what do I do now?”
Twilight sighed. “Come on, Applejack, we’ve been over this.”
“Yeah, like, a billion times!” said Rainbow Dash, rolling her eyes.
“I jus’ don’t get this crazy game, is all.” said Applejack, defensively.
“It’s just like playing pretend,” said Twilight, patiently, “Spike and I used to play it all the time back in Canterlot.” She had been trying to get Applejack involved for weeks, but had only recently convinced her to give it a go.
All of Twilight’s friends were gathered around an old table in a neglected corner of the Library’s basement. Dice, reference books, and miniatures were scattered over an intricately drawn map covering most of the table’s surface. Applejack sat between Twilight and Dash as they went over the rules one more time. Across from them, Rarity added a few more touches to her character sketch, while Fluttershy tried to avoid the cloud of snack detritus coming from Pinkie Pie’s direction. Spike sat at the head of the table, a stack of DM’s guides on his chair just barely bringing him up to the others’ eye levels.
“Please, Applejack, could you just try to play along?” he said, poking his head above the DM screen, “Ever since Derpy stopped showing up a few weeks ago we’ve been short a player for my campaign.”
“I’m tryin’, I swear,” she said, “but I don’t really see the point, I guess.”
“The point is FUN, Silly McSillerson!” said Pinkie Pie, spraying orange cheesy dust over the table. “You can fight monsters, and loot treasure, and explore dungeons, and pretend to be crazy made-up creatures like elves and dwarves and halflings and humans!”
“What’s a human?” asked Applejack, blinking in the face of the crumby assault.
“It’s like a little pink monkey,” said Pinkie, “Only they don’t have tails and they’re not as hairy and they don’t live in trees and…”
“…and sometimes they aren’t pink.” added Twilight.
“…and sometimes they aren’t pink!” finished Pinkie with an excited bounce.
“Alright,” said Applejack, gamely, “then what’s a halfling?”
“The same thing,” said Twilight, referring to her player’s guide, “but smaller and less, uh, not-hairy.”
“Uh huh, so what’s a dwarf?”
“It’s… look, never mind.” said Twilight, “Spike put a lot of work into setting up this game, so just try to keep up, okay?”
“Honestly,” piped up Rarity, “it really is a lot of fun, Applejack.”
“Now, I can see Spike and Twilight gettin’ into this nerdy stuff.” said Applejack, “And Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy, and maybe even Dash. But what in the heck do you see in all this, Rarity?”
“Oh, I felt the same way as you at first, darling.” she said, “But it can become rather addictive. Especially when Spike showed me all of the adorable little figures you can decorate!”
“And that, Fillies and Gentlecolts, is the story of how all my miniatures ended up in pretty pink sun dresses.” said Spike with a scowl, holding up a violently pink orc.
“Spike, dear, that’s clearly an evening gown. It’s much more formal, you see, and…”
“Look, can we get back to game?” interrupted Dash, “I’ve hardly even started kicking tail!”
Grimstar and Killthrust led their new companion to their camp.
“Allow me to introduce our fellows.” said Grimstar, “Alas, where are my manners? I have not asked your name! What are you called, may I ask?”
“Um, my name is…” the dwarf said haltingly, “Uh, Dwarfy… Dwarfer… son. The dwarf.”
“Yes, well, a very… traditional name, I’m certain.” said the wizard, diplomatically. “You have already met our barbarian, of course. A terrible braggart he is, but there are no better to have beside you in the fray of battle.”
“I speak only the modest truth,” said Killthrust, “If it seems as bragging, you have but your own jealousy to blame.”
“The great beauty is Darlynn Evansong, the Fair.” Grimstar continued.
“Charmed.” said the elf with an elegant bow, her jewelry jingling against her armor, “I look forward to joining my bow to your axe.”
“Our healer,” Grimstar said, moving on, “Gracelove Silentall, a cleric of the order of the Silver Star.”
“So, um, very pleased to meet you, ah, Dwarfy.” The halfling said with a demure curtsy. She wore the simple gray robes of her order and clutched a set of prayer beads.
“And, last but not least,” said Grimstar, “Zinnadiana Lyreplucker the twenty-seventh, our spoony bard.”
“Okay, Spike,” said Applejack, “You have to tell me what a…”
The band of heroes advanced to the edge of the forest, entering the foothills of the Black Mountains of Elldör. Zinnadiana played a merry tune on her lute as they walked, the bells on her jerkin jingling to the beat.
“…and NE-ver a MIGH-ti-er par-ty there WAS! Oh, NE-ver a…”
“Be still your capering, bard,” said Killthrust, “lest your head meet the flat of my broadsword!”
“Yeah, Pi… I mean, Zinnadiana,” said Dwarfy, “I don’t think a song is necessary right now. Uh, forsooth!”
“Cease your bickering, fellows!” said Grimstar, halting their progress, “My staff senses danger!”
Ahead of them, just as the forest cleared, lie a pack of Dire Wolves, snapping at each other over the remaining bones of a recent kill. They had not yet noticed the heroes, and Grimstar took the opportunity to discuss their strategy.
“A spell of petrifaction would allow us to pass unharmed.” he said.
“And leave us open to attack, should it fail.” said Darlynn, “A flurry of my arrows will make short work of them.”
“Nay,” said Zinnadiana, “I shall play them to sleep with my magic flute!”
“Waste not your spells and arrows,” said Killthrust, “I will take them single-handedly!”
“I want to make friends with them.” said Gracelove.
The entire table groaned, collectively.
“Not this again.” said Spike, his head in his hands.
“What?” said Applejack, “What’s wrong with that?”
“Oh, you know Fluttershy,” said Pinkie, cracking open another bottle of sarsaparilla, “she just loves the fuzzy critters!”
“Fluttershy, you can’t tame any more monsters.” said Twilight, “You already have two beholders, a mind-flayer, a kobald…”
“…three owlbears, half a dozen zombies…” continued Dash.
“…and a gelatinous cube!” Rarity finished. “And I’m sorry, Fluttershy, but you aren’t spending any more of our gold pieces on cube food!”
“But you can’t just let Mr. Jiggly starve!” said Fluttershy, aghast. Her eyes welled up with tears.
The party continued their journey, their new furry companions in tow. Grimstar led them on, forging a path through the twisting ravines and rocky outcrops. The way was difficult, and he paused to consult an ancient scroll for guidance.
“The scroll of prophecy speaks of a tunnel which will allow us passage through these mountains.” he said. “Though it is doubtlessly crawling with peril, it may save us a day’s worth of climbing. If only the Gods would make their intentions clear, that we may decide on the best way forward…”
Suddenly, as if in answer to Grimstar’s wish, the sky was rent asunder and a fearsome archangel descended, wings blazing with holy light and bearing a flaming sword.
“That was convenient.” said Dwarfy. “Verily!”
“Lo, great heroes of the land!” the angel spake in a booming voice, “Your tarrying is most displeasing to the Gods! I bringith forth their instructions, that you may follow them and move on already!”
Killthrust’s eyes lit up at the sight of the magnificent angel. “Finally, a challenge worthy of the Bloodcrusher!” he said, unsheathing his broadsword, “Have at thee, wingéd monster, I fear you not!”
“What foolishness is this?” said the archangel, its golden eyes narrowing.
“This is most unwise, Killthrust.” said Darlynn as she attempted to hold back her comrade.
“Indeed,” said Grimstar, aiding her efforts, “You must not antagonize an emissary of the Gods!”
“Oh, you doubt my strength?” said Killthrust, breaking free of their hold, “Taste my steel, foul creature! I will take thy wings as my own!” He charged forward with a terrible battle cry, his sword tracing a powerful arc towards the angel. A burst of holy light deflected the attack, however, and the angel turned its wrath on the stricken barbarian.
“You dare assault me?” the angel said in its fury, “I, who have guided your quest from the very beginning? If this is how you choose to use your strength, barbarian, perhaps you would do well to be free of it!” With this, a bolt of magical lightning struck the fallen warrior.
“Argh, I am cursed!” he said, “What be the heck?”
“What the heck, Spike?” said Dash, “You can’t just curse me!”
“Actually, he can.” said Twilight, checking the rulebook, “He’s the Dungeon Master, so technically, he can do anything he wants.”
“Darn right I can!” said Spike, leaning over his DM screen at Dash, “I’m sick of you screwing up all of my encounters just because you had a few lucky rolls when we were making characters!”
“That wasn’t luck, I’m just better at this than you are.” The pegasus said with a smug grin.
“They were dice rolls!” said Spike, jumping with anger, “That’s the definition of luck!”
“Aren’t I supposed to get a saving throw?” she said, ignoring him and grabbing Twilight’s guide.
“You were stunned, you don’t get a saving throw!” Spike retorted.
“I have the Talisman of Mystic Barrier,” she said, standing up, “It protects against curses!”
“It’s a holy curse, it doesn’t work!” he said, jumping onto the table and marching up to Dash until they were inches apart.
“Fluttershy can heal me!” she said, leaning into his glare.
“Fluttershy thinks you’re a jerk!” he shouted with a furious hop.
“What? She does not!” she turned to the other pegasus, who was currently hiding with her head under the table. “You don’t think I’m a jerk, right Fluttershy?”
“I, um, well…”
“Don’t answer that, Fluttershy!” Spike said, turning and marching back to his place at the head of the table. “That’s it, no more Mr. Nice Dungeon Master!” he sat down and resumed narrating, “You enter the tunnel, and the entrance snaps shut behind you, leaving you trapped…”
The ground shook under the parties’ feet. They squinted into the gloom of the tunnel, but could not make out the source of the massive footsteps. A luminescent sphere rose from Grimstar’s fingertips, casting a pale light on their surroundings.
“By the Gods…” he said as the light fell on their aggressor, “It’s a Stone Ogre!”
The massive bulk of the ogre filled the tunnel, blocking any route of escape. Its skin was as hard and grey as the tunnel walls around it and its horrible maw was filled with sharp, jagged teeth. It carried the trunk of a fallen oak as a club, and wore a purple muumuu. It let out a mighty roar, and hefted its club to attack.
“Whoa, Spike.” said Twilight, “Don’t you think that’s a little above our level?”
“Yeah, that sounds a little… serious.” agreed Applejack.
“I don’t care!” he said, furiously, “I spend hours working on this campaign, and all of you just argue and mess it up! You kept pushing me and pushing me, and now you’re gonna have to fight an ogre!”
“What-do-we-do?! What-do-we-do?!” panicked Pinkie, “I don’t know any songs that work on ogres!”
“I have some armor with bonuses against ogres,” said Rarity, “…or I would, if some dragon would let me carry more than three sets of armor at a time!”
“Wah, wah, baby wants a Bag of Holding!” said Spike, unmoved, “Better do something quick, it’s getting closer.”
“Fluttershy, sic your Dire Wolves on ‘im!” said Dash.
“I can’t, they might get hurt!” she replied from under the table.
“Come on, we can do this if we work together!” rallied Twilight.
Applejack cleared her throat. “Hey guys? What does it mean when the red one says ‘twenty’?”
The table went quiet. Spike stared at the d20 in front of Applejack. He coughed.
The massive body of the beast lay still on the tunnel floor. Darlynn checked it for treasure while Gracelove worked at healing the party’s injuries. The others gathered to congratulate the shocked dwarf, his bloodied axe still clutched in his hands.
“A spectacular battle, my lad!” said Killthrust, holding aloft the ogre’s head, “You’ve earned yourself quite the trophy!”
“Yeah, that was kinda cool.” said Dwarfy, “Uh, zounds!”
“I’ll write a new song about it!” said Zinnadiana, “The saga, no, the EPIC saga of Dwarfy Dwarferson!”
“Well done.” said Grimstar, nodding sagely, “I knew you would become a valuable member of our band.”
“Shucks, it wasn’t any…” he stopped, “Holy pony-feathers, what time is it?”
Twilight blinked at the clock. “Wow, you’re right, it’s after midnight already! We’d better call it a night.”
“But…” said Spike, still staring at the d20, “But we didn’t even get to the Catacombs of the Damned!” He looked up. Everyone was already getting up to leave.
“Sorry, Spike.” said Twilight, patting him on the head on her way past. “Maybe next time.” She gathered her books and headed for the door leading upstairs, the others following her.
“Good game, everypony!” said Fluttershy.
“It was, wasn’t it?” Applejack said with a grin.
“I told you you’d get hooked!” Rarity said, putting a hoof around Applejack’s shoulder.
“I’m TOTALLY serious about that song, by the way!” Pinkie Pie bounced after them.
Spike looked around, distraught, “You can’t… I mean… I didn’t…” he pulled himself together and shouted after Dash, “You’re still cursed!”
“You’re still a dork!” she said, not looking back as she left the room.
Deep in the steam tunnels that twisted like a labyrinth under Ponyville, a small, grey pegasus knelt in the darkness. She waited patiently for the sun to rise in the grate above her, conserving her strength. She smiled grimly in the dripping gloom. Today, she would crush her enemies, and see them driven before her. Today, she would hear the lamentations of their women.
Yes, she thought as she sharpened her halberd, today will be a good day…
OR IS IT?
Yes, yes it is. But there’s a sequel now! Click here to read it!
Warning: the following story is a sequel, and contains spoilers. Click here to read the original.
D&D Ponies 2: Electric Scootaloo
Episode 2: Return of the Poni
2 Dungeons, 2 Dragons
D2: Judgment Neigh
LARP Free or Die Hard
That Sequel You Wanted
It was a dark and stormy night. Well, actually, it was closer to early afternoon and a light drizzle, but Applebloom wasn’t about to split hairs. Her friends Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle were sprawled out beside her on the rug in Twilight’s library, bored out of their minds. This meeting of the Cutie Mark Crusaders was going nowhere, and not even very fast. Even though they were inside, the dull, grey light coming through the windows and the tapping of the rain on the roof sucked all the energy out of the little fillies. Applebloom narrowed her eyes angrily at the clouds through the window.
“Stupid pegasus ponies, makin’ it rain on a weekend.” she pouted, “No offence, Scoots.”
“Whatever.” Scootaloo shrugged and stretched her tiny wings. “Can you think of anything to do?” she asked for the umpteenth time.
“Shouldn’t we be crusading for our cutie marks?” said Sweetie Belle. The young unicorn was feeling especially fidgety. She rolled over on her back, waving her hooves in the air absent-mindedly. “That’s what the CMC is for, right?”
“Ugh, I’m so sicka’ doin’ that!” said Applebloom.
“Yeah,” added Scootaloo, “It’s, like, all we do anymore. I just wanna hang out sometimes, ya know?”
Their non-conversation was interrupted when Twilight and Fluttershy trotted into the room. The two had agreed to keep an eye on the kids while their big sisters were out for the afternoon, with Rainbow Dash treating them to a Wonderbolts performance.
“How’s it going, girls?” Twilight said with a cheery smile.
“Lousy.” said Applebloom, grumpily, “There’s nothin’ to do here!”
“Yeah, we’re bored!” Sweetie Belle said, rolling upright.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Fluttershy said with genuine concern.
“It’s not your fault, Miss Fluttershy.” said Scootaloo, “It’s just the dumb ol’ rain.” She sat down with her friends as they hung their heads in a theatrical display of self-pity.
“Aw, don’t be that way, kids!” said Twilight in a peppy tone that was starting to irritate the fillies. “You’re in a library after all, and I’ve got books just filled with fun things to do! You can read any book you want!”
The CMC rolled their eyes in unison. It was a move they had been practicing. They had gotten good enough to pull it off on command, the instant an adult started acting lame. Twilight didn’t seem to notice them, though, as she started sorting through the books for an appropriate volume.
“Let’s see, Miss Mare’s Rainy-Day Funbook? Nah, how about The Dangerous Book for Fillies? Hmm, that’s a little advanced for girls your age. Maybe we could try…”
“What’s this one about?” said Applebloom, cutting her off. “It’s called a ‘Monster Manual’. That sounds pretty cool!” She had found a stack of tattered paperbacks with colorful covers stashed in an out-of-the-way bookcase. They had been shelved out of order, as if someone were trying to hide them. In an instant, Twilight snatched it away from her.
“No no no, not those books!” she said, laughing nervously, “Those are, uh, boring! Yeah, you wouldn’t be interested in…”
“Hey, check out this one!” Scootaloo said, ignoring her. “The Dungeon Master’s Guide. Awesome!”
“I don’t think this is a good idea, girls.” Fluttershy said meekly. She and Twilight tried to keep them away from the forbidden books, but the fillies managed to squirm around them. In the struggle, a small velvet pouch was knocked off the shelf, spilling its colorful plastic contents on the library’s floor.
“It’s a game! It’s a game!” Sweetie Belle squealed, “Look, it’s got dice and everything!”
“What gives, Twilight?” Applebloom said, turning to face her, “Why are ya holdin’ out on us?”
“Yeah!” rallied Scootaloo, “You said we could use any book we wanted!”
Twilight sighed, “I know, I know. I’m sorry. It’s just… my friends and I decided we wouldn’t play this game anymore after… the Incident.”
“Incident?” said Applebloom, screwing up her face in thought, “Oh, you mean when that mailpony went all nutty?”
It was the only thing she could think of that would cause Twilight to speak in such hushed tones. It had been a major scandal in Ponyville for months, and the mayor even made a big speech about it. She mostly remembered afterwards, when Applejack had given her a long boring lecture about the difference between fantasy and reality. Still, she tried to put a positive spin on it.
“It wasn’t so bad though, was it? I mean, no one was hurt. ‘Cept for the beavers, I guess…” She trailed off.
Scootaloo jumped in, trying to salvage the argument. “But they got better! Fluttershy took care of ‘em, right?”
Fluttershy looked away sadly. “Toothy and Chompers still aren’t quite the same.”
“Come on, please?” said Sweetie Belle, “We totally promise we won’t go crazy!”
In desperation, the CMC turned their most powerful weapon on Twilight, another one they had been practicing. Looking up at the older unicorn, their eyes went wide and misted with tears, and their bottom lips trembled. They called it the D’aww Bomb, and they were masters at it.
“I don’t know…” Twilight said, her resistance wearing down. Her friends had all been upset by what happened. Spike had taken the Incident especially hard, giving up DMing in the spirit of ‘never again’. Still, she had to admit that she missed her weekly gaming session. “I guess it couldn’t hurt, so long as Derpy doesn’t find out…”
:Act 1: Grim Twilight
Grimstar the Black examined the three apprentice heroes before him in the courtyard of his wizard’s tower. They were an undisciplined and rowdy bunch of scoundrels, but he had high hopes for their futures. Truly, was he not the same, in his own youth? Were his friends not equally unruly, even at the peak of their skills?
Once again, the wizard remembered the great tragedy which had split his own party asunder and scattered its members to the far corners of the land. The return of their prodigal companion had been both unexpected and disastrous. Sadly, their quest for the Dragon King would remain unfinished forevermore, as even the Gods themselves had abandoned them. He furrowed his dark brow, banishing the bleak reminiscences from his mind. Striking the rocky ground forcefully with his staff, he gained the young ones’ attentions.
“Lo, novice adventurers,” he said, “It is time to begin your training!”
“Okay,” said Twilight, setting up the DM screen, “we need to make your characters.” Spike was in Canterlot on official business, so she decided to take over Dungeon Master responsibilities herself. The three girls sat on the rug in front of her, acting unusually quiet and attentive. Fluttershy sat on the couch nearby, happy just to watch for now. Twilight shuffled through her old character sheets, glad she hadn’t had the heart to throw them out. “First things first, what should we name them?”
“Ummmm…” Applebloom said, trying to think of something appropriately medieval-ish, “Oh, I know! How about Apple-BOOM!”
“Yeah!” said Scootaloo, liking the direction this was going, “And I could be SHOOT-aloo!”
“And I’ll be, uh…” Sweetie Belle thought hard, “I got it! Sweetie HE…umf!”
“You know what?” said Twilight, her hoof in Sweetie Belle’s mouth, “You all have such nice names already. Let’s just stick with those, okay?”
The training session had gotten off to a rocky start, but Grimstar soldiered on. Leading his young charges onwards through the hilly countryside, he decided to try appealing to their intellectual curiosity.
“You are new to these lands,” he said, “I do not wish to boast, but I am wise in the way of the warrior. Ask of me anything you like, and I shall answer you truthfully.”
“Okay, then,” said Applebloom, gamely, “What are we?”
“An excellent question,” said Grimstar, “For what indeed is the measure of a man? Is he to be judged by his birthright or more by his actions? Or is there, perhaps, a deeper level of…”
“No, I mean, why are we all pink and weird?”
“Ah,” said Grimstar, disappointed, “You speak of your nature as human beings. Although you have not yet revealed to me your racial heritage, so there may be something dwarfish or elfish about you.”
“Can’t we be ponies?” asked Sweetie Belle.
Grimstar laughed heartily, “Why would you want to? In this world, ponies are merely unintelligent beasts of burden!”
“That’s… a little messed up.” said Scootaloo, scrunching up her nose, “But I guess I’m okay with being a hoo-man.”
“Yes, I can see now that you are all full-blooded humans.” he said, quickly moving on, “Come, I shall teach you to wield a sword.” They crested the hill and made for the edge of a wild forest, its floor tangled with undergrowth.
“What’s so hard about using a sword?” asked Applebloom, struggling to keep up, “You just hold the blunt end and stick the pointy end in bad people.”
“I assure you, it will take more than that to become true warriors.” Grimstar halted the party as they came upon a path cutting through the dark woods. “Ahead is your first challenge. I will give you each a weapon, that you may learn their proper use.” The wizard magically produced armaments from his robes and presented them. “For Scootaloo, a sturdy short sword. A bow of finest yew shall go to Sweetie Bell. And last, a stout mace for Applebloom.”
“A mace?” said Applebloom, dubiously, “Can’t I wield somethin’ cooler?”
“I want a sword,” said Scootaloo, “that’s, like, an axe too. An axe-sword!”
“Can I have a magic wand?” said Sweetie Belle, “I wanna point at stuff and make it go ‘pew pew pew’!”
“You are sure to come across finer weaponry on your journey. For now, these will do.” Grimstar patiently reassured the heroes. He pointed ahead, into the dusky gloom of the wood. “Behold, the first enemy on which you will prove your mettle!” There, in a small clearing dimly lit by the thin columns of light coming through the forest canopy, a small, blue-green gelatinous creature awaited them. It gurgled at them menacingly.
“That’s it?” Applebloom said skeptically, “A little jelly blob? What’s it gonna do, wiggle at us?”
“It is a creature appropriate to your level.” said the wizard.
“I kinda feel sorry for it.” said Sweetie Belle, “It doesn’t even have arms. Or… anything else.”
“YARRGH!” shouted Scootaloo, ignoring them and charging into the fray. Rushing into the clearing, she stomped the creature under her heavy leather boots, causing it to burst in a spray of blue slime. The others stared at her blankly.
“What?” she said, looking back at them, “It was comin’ right at me! You saw it!”
“Well, that’s one less a’ those things.” Applebloom said stoically. She turned to Grimstar. “What’s next?”
“Next… yes.” said the wizard with an awkward cough, “I sort of thought that would take… longer.”
“Uh, let’s see…” Twilight flipped frantically through her guides. The fillies eyed her quizzically.
“You can’t think of anything, can you?” said Applebloom.
Twilight eventually gave up. “No… I guess I can’t.” she sighed, “This is harder than it looks. I guess Spike was right about that.” The girls groaned in disappointment.
“Wait,” said Sweetie Belle, an idea occurring to her, “What about Fluttershy?”
Fluttershy looked up from her place on the couch. “Me?” she said, startled, “What could I do?”
“You tell us bedtime stories all the time,” Sweetie Belle persisted, “I bet you’d be a great Dungeon Master!”
“You really think so?”
“Go ahead.” said Twilight, getting up and inviting her over, “You can’t be any worse at it than I am.”
“O… okay.” said Fluttershy, taking her place behind the DM screen. “I’ll give it a try…”
Act 2: Fluttershy Gives It a Try
After bravely defeating the evil slime monster, the three little heroes continued through the dark, scary forest. They weren’t afraid, though, because they were all so cool and strong, and they knew Grimstar the friendly wizard was there to protect them.
“Don’t worry, girls!” he said in his deep manly voice, “I know of someone who lives in this wood and may have need of our assistance!”
As they walked, the forest began to open up into a beautiful secret glen, hidden away from the outside world. Wild orchids and lilies grew around their feet, and cute butterflies and hummingbirds drank their sweet nectar. A babbling stream filled with silver fish wound its way through the forest floor and dewdrops glistened on the green leaves of the tall trees. The sun was shining brightly and everything was very pretty.
Deep within the folds of the twisting valley, a lone halfling tended to her garden. She sang sweetly to her animal friends, who gathered on the eves of the round wooden door leading to her burrow. She greeted the party as they approached.
“Hello, Grimstar!” she said, waving, “What brings you to my glen this morn?”
“Good morrow, Gracelove.” he said, “I have brought along some neophytes in need of your instruction.” A neophyte is like a student, but old-timey.
“Oh, how wonderful!” she said, “They just might be able to help me with my goblin problem.”
“All right, goblins!” said Applebloom.
“Lemme at ‘em,” said Scootaloo, “I’ll kick those goblins’ butts!”
“No, don’t do that!” said Gracelove, shocked, “These are NICE goblins!”
Scootaloo made a sour face, glancing at the other girls doubtfully. They looked back at her and shrugged.
“What’s the matter?” asked Fluttershy, worried, “Am I doing it wrong?”
“No, no, it’s just…” said Applebloom, “I thought we were supposed to fight monsters, not help ‘em.”
“I don’t want to tell you what to do, Fluttershy,” Twilight said carefully, “but the book says that goblins are neutral-evil.”
“That doesn’t mean they can’t be nice.” said Fluttershy, reproachfully.
“Well, actually…” Twilight started. She paused, looking at the pegasus for a moment, then reconsidered. “I… guess it doesn’t.” she said, giving up.
“I don’t mind helping the goblins.” said Sweetie Belle encouragingly, “Let’s see how it turns out.”
Following Gracelove, the party entered the goblin village. The little green creatures shied away from them as they approached, hiding in their mushroom-houses. Only one remained in the open, leaning on his cane as he hobbled up to meet them. He had a scruffy beard and wore a floppy white hat. Gracelove introduced him to the heroes.
“This is the Daddy Goblin.” she said, “He’ll tell you what’s wrong.”
“Thank the heavens you’re here!” he said in a squeaky little voice, “A big, mean owlbear has been attacking our village and stealing all our berries!”
Scootaloo rolled her eyes. Applebloom elbowed her in the ribs. “We’d be happy to help you out, Mr. Goblin.” she said, “Can you tell us where it lives?”
The goblin nodded and pointed to a hill nearby. “It lives in a cave up there.” he said, “But be careful! He’s really mean!”
They made their way stealthily up the hill. At the top, the owlbear pawed viciously at the ground outside a cave stuffed full of stolen berries.
“Now would be a good time to discuss your strategy.” advised Grimstar.
“Strategy, schmategy, let’s just hit the dang thing!” said Applebloom, sprinting up the hill, “Eat my plus-one mace, ya goofy-lookin’ critter!” She landed a mighty blow directly to its beak. The owlbear reared back, momentarily stunned. As Applebloom prepared for a second swing, it turned tail and ran off into the woods, yipping with fear.
“Yayyy!” said Gracelove, clapping, “You did it! Good job, girls!”
“This is lame.” said Scootaloo.
“Is it? I’m sorry.” Fluttershy said dejectedly, “I’m trying my best…”
“No, I don’t mean you’re lame, Fluttershy!” Scootaloo backpedaled desperately, “You just say lame stuff sometimes, and do lame things, and… I’ll stop now.” She wilted under the angry glares of her friends.
The doorbell rang. “I’ll get it!” said Scootaloo, happy to have something to change the subject. She trotted over and opened the door. Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Rarity stepped out of the drizzle, taking off their raincoats. Scootaloo called back to her friends.
“Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, your sisters are here!”
The girls rushed to the door excitedly to greet their siblings. “Hey, sis!” Applebloom said, emerging from a hug, “How were the Wonderbolts?”
“They put on a pretty good show!” said Applejack, grinning, “I wasn’t expectin’ much in the rain, but they sure pulled off some impressive moves.”
“I told ya,” said Dash, still high on hero worship, “Flying in the wet is totally different from normal flying. It’s like an art form!”
“I hope you girls were having fun with Fluttershy and Twilight.” said Rarity, nuzzling her sister.
“Uh huh!” said Sweetie Belle, looking up at her, “We don’t have to leave now, do we? We were playing a game!”
“Oh?” Rarity raised an eyebrow, “Which game is that?”
“It’s a secret!” Sweetie Belle said with a conspiratorial look.
“Yeah!” Scootaloo joined in, “Secret, but fun!”
Twilight walked up, a sheepish look on her face. “I… sort of let them use our old D&D stuff…” she said, reluctantly.
Rarity looked concerned. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Come on, sis,” Sweetie Belle pleaded, “we were having so much fun! Applebloom just beat up an owlbear!”
“Hmmm,” said Applejack, mulling it over, “I guess it’s okay by me. You kids are smart enough to not go overboard, right?” The girls nodded, putting on their best angelic faces.
“Wow, this takes me back.” said Dash, seeing the game set up on the rug. “Who’s DM?”
“Um, I am.” Fluttershy said timidly, “But I don’t think I’m doing very well at it.”
“Mind if I take over?” said Dash, “I’ve always wanted a go in the captain’s chair.”
Fluttershy joined Twilight and Applejack on the couch as Rainbow Dash took her place. The kids sat down in front of her eagerly.
Rarity excused herself and headed for the kitchen. “Anyone mind if I make some tea? I need to warm up a little after sitting in that rain all afternoon.”
“Yeah, great, whatever.” said Dash, waving her off and turning to the fillies. “Alright, stand back kids. I’m about to rock your faces off!”
Act 3: The Bloodcrusher Cometh
“Are you ready?” said Rainbow Dash, rubbing her hooves together.
“I’m ready!” Scootaloo shouted back gleefully.
“Are you psyched?” Dash continued.
“I’m psyched!” answered Scootaloo.
“Are you PUMPED?”
“I’m so FREAKIN’ PUMPED!”
“Can we just get on with it already?” said Applebloom, annoyed.
Suddenly, there was a HUGE explosion from deep within the cave, hurling the berries or whatever way out into the air. As the noise died down, they could begin to hear a deep, dramatic rumbling coming from the depths of the dark cavern. It got louder and louder, until finally an awesome flaming motorcycle rocketed out of the cave mouth! Riding it was a massive barbarian warrior, bristling with weapons and spinning a morning-star in the air. He ramped off a rock, flying over the party’s heads in super slow-motion, then turned the bike into a power-slide as he landed, screeching to a stop.
“I heard tell,” he said, removing his sunglasses, “that someone has need of Bloodcrusher Killthrust!”
“Whoa…” said Scootaloo, her eyes as wide as saucers. Applebloom and Sweetie Belle exchanged a look.
“How the heck do ya crush blood?” said Applebloom, doubtfully, “It’s a liquid.”
“You shouldn’t have a motorcycle in the medieval epoch,” Sweetie Belle astutely noted, “It’s not thematically accurate.”
“You’re never gonna stop waving that vocabulary test grade in our faces, are you?” Scootaloo grumbled at her.
Sweetie Belle stuck out her tongue. “It’s not my fault that I did better than you.”
Killthrust ignored them and dismounted his magically powered and totally period-appropriate vehicle. “I’ve just returned from defeating the fire daemons of the Lower Reaches, but I believe I will require some assistance in my next epic adventure!”
“Alright,” said Applebloom, deciding to play along, “what do you want us to do?”
Killthrust grinned, crossing his muscular arms. “King, uh… Ronnie… has been kidnapped by ninjas!” he said, pulling out his axe-sword-tar and playing a few power chords, “Are you bad enough dudes to save the King?”
“Aw, yeah!” said Scootaloo, pumping her fists in the air.
“Sure, that sounds like it could be fun.” Sweetie Belle said diffidently.
“Then we will be off!” Killthrust threw down a smoke bomb, enveloping the party in an acrid cloud. When it cleared, they were standing in a desolated, pock-marked plain. Lava pools and rocky spires surrounded them, and peals of thunder ripped through the dark and tumultuous sky.
“How did you do that, Killthrust?” said Grimstar, waving the remaining tendrils of smoke from his face, “Barbarians can’t make use of teleportation spells!”
“I think you’ll find that barbarians do whatever they please!” Killthrust told the wizard, “Anyway, there’s no time to talk. A dragon is attacking!” Appearing seemingly out of nowhere, a terrible red and black dragon roared ferociously at the party.
“For Ponyville!” Scootaloo shouted as she led her friends forward. They charged up to the dragon’s massive fore-foot and attacked it savagely, but their weapons bounced harmlessly off of the scaly hide. It flicked its claw, sending Applebloom flying across the sun-baked clay of the plain.
“No fair!” she said after she slid to a stop, “This dragon’s too hard!”
“Nonsense,” said Killthrust, “You just have to know how to fight it!”
The barbarian leapt at the dragon, landing on its enormous snout and grabbing hold before it could shake him free. Wedging his foot in its horrific maw and gripping its upper jaw in his powerful hands, he levered the beast’s mouth open, his bulging muscles rippling with the effort. He took a glass vial from his belt and uncorked it with his teeth, its contents fizzing violently upon being exposed to air. Finally, he tossed the potion down the dragon’s gullet and jumped away, rolling as he hit the ground.
The dragon looked around for a moment, confused, until the potion reacted and exploded it from the inside. A blazing column of fire stood where the dragon once was, as its entrails fell on the party like rain.
“Looks like that dragon…” Killthrust said, putting his sunglasses back on, “…wasn’t fireproof!”
“Yeah…” Applebloom said uncertainly, wiping guts out of her eyes, “I don’t know how I feel about pretendin’ to kill dragons, since we know one in real life.”
“No time for that,” said Killthrust, “this battle has not concluded yet!” He pointed west, where an enormous army of orcs massed.
“A whole army?” Scootaloo blanched.
“That’s not all!” said Killthrust. East of them, ranks of skeletons chittered to each other as they marched forward in a flanking maneuver. A throng of frost giants advanced from the north, carving through the ground like glaciers. The party attempted to move south, but they were cut off by a horde of giant spiders. Suddenly, the ground beneath their feet cracked open, and hundreds of balrogs emerged!
“Stand your ground, warriors!” Killthrust shouted above the din, “Today is a good day to die!”
“No it isn’t!” said Sweetie Belle, horrified, “Today is a terrible day to do that!”
“That’s quite enough of this foolishness!” said Grimstar. He put his fingers to his lips and whistled, high and loud. A flock of giant eagles appeared from above, swooping down to pick up each of the heroes in turn. They flew off towards the horizon, leaving the monsters below to fight amongst themselves.
“Is it over?” Fluttershy asked, poking her head out from under the couch cushions.
“I’ll say it is.” Twilight said, looking at Dash crossly, “How could you possibly think that was a good encounter for level-one players?”
“Yeah, not cool, Dash!” said Scootaloo, narrowing her eyes.
A freshly prepared tea service levitated into the room, followed closely by Rarity. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“Rarity!” tattled Sweetie Belle, “Rainbow Dash is trying to kill us!”
“Seriously, Dash?” Rarity eyed the pegasus sardonically, “I leave for five minutes and you try to kill my sister?”
“I was just trying to make it cool…” Dash said, her ego stinging.
“Well, it wasn’t!” Applebloom scolded, “It was just a buncha explosions an’ stuff!” She turned to her big sister on the couch, “Why don’t you try it, Applejack? I bet you could show us how it’s done!”
“No way, forget it.” said Applejack, firmly, “I’m good at a lot a’ stuff, but I don’t know nothin’ about masterin’ no dungeons.” Applebloom looked disappointed.
“How about you, Rarity?” asked Sweetie Belle, hopefully, “You’re the most creative pony I know! Maybe even in all of Equestria!”
“Well, I’m not sure about that.” said Rarity, blushing from the compliment. “Though, now that I think about it, there is a scenario I’ve wanted to try out for some time.”
Rainbow Dash reluctantly joined the other failed DMs on the couch, Twilight moving to the floor to make room for her. Rarity carefully set the tea service down on the end table and took her place.
She cleared her throat, covering her mouth politely, “Ahem…”
Act 4: Rarefied Air
The eagles soared through the cloudy sky, passing over tall mountains and wide, blue seas. Eventually they came upon a chain of remote islands, isolated from the brutish and uncouth mainland. Grimstar squinted at the edge of a cliff just below a dormant volcano’s rim, making out a tiny light flashing in a distinctive pattern.
“Someone is signaling us,” he shouted to his companions through the rushing wind, “We should land here!”
They circled the cliff until a suitable landing spot was found. After touching down, Grimstar slid off of his eagle’s back, patting it gently on its beak. He helped Gracelove and the three novices dismount, but Killthrust refused his aid. Instead, the barbarian jumped from his eagle and executed a series of acrobatic flips, landing with a cocky grin. The wizard sighed testily, but said nothing. The party looked around at their new surroundings.
The area was well maintained, with a small cobblestone walkway leading up the mountainside from the island below. As the party followed the path upwards, it passed through an elaborate wooden gate and twisted gracefully around a small pond filled with large, golden-scaled fish. It continued on, leading to an elegant, multi-tiered pagoda nestled between two rocky outcrops that jutted from the volcano rim. Its wood was silver with age.
Though the structure had obviously been well looked after for most of its existence, at some point it had come into a state of disrepair. The façade had faded badly, and many of the decorative shingles were missing from its roof. The shimenawa (sacred plaited rope) above its door indicated that it was a shrine, or had been at some point. The multitude of omamori (protective paper amulets) and hamaya (evil-destroying arrows) covering its every surface implied that it was haunted. Surrounding the pagoda were dozens of finely carved stone statues of foreign gods. They were scattered throughout a grove of fragrant cherry trees, whose blossoms drifted lazily from their branches and blanketed the ground like fresh snow.
“Cooooool…” said Sweetie Belle, “Everything’s all Japanese-y!”
“It is quite beautiful.” agreed Grimstar, “Though, I wonder where the person who signaled us could be?”
“I suppose that’s my cue.”
An elvish archer emerged from behind one of the stone statues holding a silver hand mirror, which she used to flash reflected sunlight at the assembled heroes in the same pattern they had seen before. Her pale features were offset by her dark, straight hair, which was held in a tight bun by a lacquered comb. Her kimono (Asian-style dress) was of the edo komon style, in white with indigo accents forming a repeating chrysanthemum pattern and featuring the triple-diamond mon (emblem) of its wearer. A silver obi (sash) was tied around her waist, a small tanto (blade) tucked discretely into it by the small of her back. Her long flowing sleeves were embroidered with matching silver silk, and trimmed in…
“Augh, stop talking about dresses!” shouted Scootaloo.
“It’s good to see you again, Darlynn Evansong.” said Gracelove. “What brings you to such a distant and exotic land?”
“My services have been engaged by the Shogun,” she explained, “His retainer has mysteriously gone missing of late, and treachery is suspected.”
“He should keep it by his bed.” advised Sweetie Belle, “That’s where I keep my retainer.”
“How amusing.” said Darlynn, dryly, “Though of course I am referring to a trusted servant, and not a dental health device. But, alas, look at the state of you!”
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” said Applebloom, brushing some of the filth from her shoulders, “It’s just dragon guts.”
“There is a hot springs nearby,” Darlynn said adamantly, “I insist you refresh yourselves before we continue.”
“We don’t have to role-play taking a bath, do we?” asked Scootaloo.
“No, no,” Rarity reassured her, “We can just skip to afterwards.”
Feeling cleansed in both mind and body, the party gathered by the edge of the hot springs to discuss the challenges that lie ahead. Darlynn served them matcha (ceremonial green tea) as a purification ritual.
“You know,” noted Applebloom, “if you said stuff in English to start with, you wouldn’t have to keep defining everything.”
“Are we actually having a tea party?” Killthrust asked, scowling, “Or have I gone mad with boredom?”
“It’s a tea ceremony, you uncultured…” Darlynn started.
“So tell us, Darlynn,” Grimstar said quickly, “how can we aid you in your mission?”
The elf regained her composure. “I have tracked the missing retainer to this location, the Silver Pagoda.” she explained. “There is evidence that he entered the pagoda several months ago, but did not leave. I suspect that he was overwhelmed by obakemono.” She paused, looking at Applebloom, “By which I mean, ghosts.”
“Whoa, spooky!” said Scootaloo, impressed.
“Indeed,” Darlynn replied, “The shrine is overwhelmed by such creatures. We will need to secure each floor one-by-one. In addition, the doors between each level are locked by fiendish puzzles, which will need to be solved before we advance. Doing so will give us access to the next room, and hopefully, reveal a clue to the fate of the Shogun’s deceitful servant. Before we can begin, however, we must…”
Suddenly, a bunch of awesome ninjas jumped out of the trees, attacking the party and ending the stupid tea thing! They were armed with swords and throwing stars and those things that are like two sticks all tied together, and they began a vicious assault on the heroes. Killthrust drew his sword, bravely defending his comrades.
“Ambush!” he shouted, “To arms, warriors!”
“What in Equestria do you think you’re doing?” cried Rarity, yanking the DM screen away from Rainbow Dash.
“I’ll tell you what I’m not doing,” Dash retorted, attempting to grab it back, “I’m not sitting around for hours drinking fancy tea and yakking about… stuff!”
“Please stop fighting…” said Fluttershy, too quietly to get the dueling DMs’ attentions.
The CMC watched the developing argument with interest, their eyes following the DM screen as both ponies tried to claim possession of it. It wasn’t a game, but at least it was entertainment.
“I’ve worked too hard on this to let you ruin it!” Rarity continued.
“You shoulda worked harder at not making it boring!” Dash snapped back at her.
“You had your chance, don’t mess up mine!”
“I don’t need to! You were taking forever to go nowhere!”
“It’s called setting a scene, you… you barbarian!”
“Would you two look at yourselves?” Applejack interjected, “You’re both acting like a couple a’ foals!”
“Me?” Rarity said incredulously, “If anyone is acting foalish it’s…”
The doorbell rang. Rarity and Dash stopped their struggle, looking at the door in confusion. It rang again, frantically, as if someone were leaning on the button.
“Twilight?” said Rarity, concern edging into her voice, “You weren’t expecting more visitors today, were you?”
Applejack gulped. “You don’t think it could be… you know…” She made her eyes go askew.
Twilight shrugged. “It’s the weekend, so I don’t think she’d be doing her rounds. Still…”
The ringing continued unabated. Twilight got up and nervously approached the library’s entrance. Whoever was ringing the bell switched to pounding angrily at the door. Before Twilight could reach it, the door was forced wide open, slamming against the library wall. Lightning crashed in the sky, casting a terrifying silhouette in the doorframe.
“You…” it said in a deep, furious voice. It stepped forward into the light, revealing a shaggy mass of pink hair, dripping from the rain. “You... were having a party! Without me!” Pinkie Pie glared angrily at the gathered ponies. “I can tell, you know. My party sense was tingling! Oh, hey, are we gaming again?” Pulling a characteristic emotional one-eighty, Pinkie Pie shook herself off, transferring most of the rainwater to Twilight. Before anyone could object she zipped over to the rug, hip-checking Dash and Rarity out of the way.
“I’ve been wanting to try this forever!”
Act 5: Pink Thunder
Grimstar, Gracelove, and the girls fought off the ninjas, while Darlynn and Killthrust fought with each other.
“You foolish oaf!” the elf shouted, “You gave away our position!”
The barbarian began a pithy response, but was drowned out by a sudden, strange noise, like a cracking hiss. The ninjas around them all dropped like rag dolls.
“What in blazes was that?” said Killthrust, looking fruitlessly for the source of the sound.
Grimstar prodded one of their fallen foes. “Arrows…” he said, “But from where…?”
Wind rushed around them, stirring up the cherry blossoms into a swirling mass. The source of the wind drifted downwards through the clouds above. At first, all that was visible was a rope ladder with a single figure in a leather aviator jacket hanging from the end. She removed her goggles and pushed aside her bright pink scarf, revealing a familiar face.
“Looks like I’m late to the party.” said Zinnadiana, “That’s a first for me!” The auto-crossbow in her hands hissed with released steam. “Hope you don’t mind, but I invited some friends along.”
With this the clouds parted, and the gleaming sliver and brass bulk of the bard’s personal airship became visible. The zeppelin was built in a surrealistic art-deco style, covered in complex hatches and mechanical details, the purpose of which were not entirely clear on first viewing. Copper pipes stuck out at odd angles from its gondola, powering six colossal prop engines. Inscribed on its side in large gothic script was the name ‘Pinkitania’.
“We get to ride a blimp?” Sweetie Belle said gleefully.
“What happened to ‘thematically accurate’?” Scootaloo smirked.
“Blimps don’t count.” said Sweetie Belle, not taking her eyes off the airship, “They’re too cool!”
Zinnadiana jumped the last few feet to the ground, directing the airship’s pilot to circle around and dock at the cliff. It was surprisingly agile for such a large and cumbersome craft.
“What about my mission?” said Darlynn, “The mystery of the Silver Pagoda lies yet unsolved…”
“Aw, that silly old pagoda will still be there later!” Zinnadiana said, patting the elf on the back a little too roughly, “You won’t want to miss this. I’m hunting sky-pirates!”
“Pirates? I am SO there!” said Scootaloo as she and her friends rushed across the gangplank and into the airship. The other heroes followed, slightly hesitantly.
The interior of the ship was, if anything, even more complex than its exterior. Glass and metal tubing ran throughout the cabin, connecting various command stations. These were manned by a group of clockwork men, who moved jerkily about on rails set in the floor. One of them gave an erratic salute, steam whistling from its joints, as they boarded.
“Welcome – aboard – Captain – Lyreplucker – and – guests!” it said, mechanically.
“At ease, Ensign Clanky,” Zinnadiana said, jauntily returning the robot’s salute. “Turn up the engines to full power, and ready the artillery. Set us a course, Lieutenant Dwarferson!”
“Wait, what am I doing here?” said Dwarfy Dwarferson, looking around in confusion.
“I never said I was playing, Pinkie.” balked Applejack.
“Well, I can’t take off without my first mate, can I?” Pinkie Pie said encouragingly.
“Yeah, play with us, sis!” said Applebloom.
“Okay, fine…” Applejack sighed.
The Pinkitania took off through the clouds, crossing the sea and heading toward the mainland.
“Are the steam-torpedoes fully charged, Commander Dwarferson?” said Zinnadiana.
“Uh… sure.” said the dwarf, tapping uncertainly at a gauge, “But aren’t I supposed to be a lieutenant?”
“I promoted you, just now!” Zinnadiana turned to the girls. “Applebloom, Scootaloo, I need you to man the fore and aft cannons. Sweetie Belle, you can work the tesla coil!” Not needing any further encouragement, the girls rushed to their stations.
“What do you want us to do?” asked Gracelove, nervously.
“Just hang on!” the bard replied with a mischievous grin. The airship rocked as a shell exploded near the starboard hull. A fleet of enemy airships broke through the cloud cover below and began their attack. The Pinkitania banked hard as the clockwork crew took evasive action. Zinnadiana took her place as captain and began barking orders. “Battle stations, everyone! It’s my arch-nemesis, Captain Top-hat and his Mechano-Mercenaries!”
The girls wasted no time and returned fire. “Pew pew pew! Pew pew pew pew!” Sweetie Belle shouted ecstatically as electricity crackled from the gun barrel she controlled.
“Avast, me hearties!” Zinnadiana shouted as she led her crew into the dogfight, “Blast those scurvy dogs out of the sky!”
“Wait, are we the pirates now?” asked Applebloom, turning from the cannon’s controls, “That’s cool and all, I just want to…”
“Look out!” interrupted Zinnadiana, pointing to a buzzing cloud off the port side, “It’s a swarm of mecha-monkeybees! Rear Admiral Dwarferson, release the heli-bunnies!”
“What the heck are…?” started Dwarfy.
A hatch opened in the side of the airship, and dozens of rabbits leaped out, wearing flight goggles and carrying harpoon guns. Their helicopter-backpacks buzzed into life as they took off.
“Oh. I guess they’re just what they sound like.” said Dwarfy, blinking.
The ship pitched wildly as a cannonball ripped through the Pinkitania’s hydrogen tank. Orange flames burst from the side of the craft as it quickly lost altitude and plunged through the clouds, leaving a trail of black smoke in its wake.
“Curse you, Captain Top-hat!” Zinnadiana shook her fist at the sky, “I swear, one day your awesome hat will be mine!”
“FWOOOM! PSHOOOOO! AOOOOGA, AOOOOGA! AAAGGHH, WE’RE GOIN’ DOWN!” Pinkie Pie collapsed in a giggling heap, sending dice and graph paper flying.
“That was certainly interesting.” said Twilight, still wringing out her mane.
Pinkie sat up, still giggling, “Okay, your turn, Applejack!”
“What?” said Applejack in surprise.
“She has a point, Applejack.” said Rarity, finally managing to disentangle herself from Dash, “We’ve all had a turn, so you may as well try it.”
“Go on, I bet you’ll be great!” Applebloom enthused.
“It’s actually pretty fun.” Fluttershy said with a slight blush.
“Yeah, do it!” said Pinkie, “You know you wanna!”
“Okay, okay, whatever.” Applejack gave in, “If it’ll shut ya’ll up, I’ll do it.”
Act 6: Jack of All…
Darkness engulfed the heroes. The black void around them yawned away from their feet like a vast, unknowable chasm. Wind rushed past their ears, or perhaps it was only the blood rushing through their veins they could hear in the deathless hush. Had the crash killed them? Was this the afterlife, or some place between worlds? They attempted to speak, but only silence fell from their lips, and only silence answered them.
“Yeah, I got nothin’.” Applejack said with a shrug.
“Wow,” said Dash, “that was pretty disappointing.”
“Hey, I only played this goofy game once.” said Applejack, defensively, “What did you expect?”
“I know you can do better than that, Applejack!” said Pinkie Pie, “Just think of something cool, then say it. That’s how I do it!”
“Okay, just give me a minute.” Applejack huffed, “It’s not like you gave me much to work with. How am I supposed to follow a blimp crash?”
The doorbell rang for the third time that evening. “Oh, for crying out loud!” said Twilight as she got up to answer it.
“It’s not like I mind having company,” she complained to no one in particular, “but since when did my library become Ponyville’s… social… hub…” She trailed off as she looked through the door’s peephole.
“What’s wrong? Who is it?” Rarity said with sudden alarm.
Twilight turned around, her face as white as a sheet. She swallowed hard.
Act 7: The Day of the Derp
Panic flooded through the library.
“Quick, hide everything!” Dash whispered urgently as she attempted to gather up the gaming paraphernalia on the floor.
“There’s no time!” Rarity hissed back, “She’ll think we’re hiding something if we take too long!” The doorbell rang again, underscoring her point.
“Everyone stand up and block her view!” said Twilight, “I’ll try to send her off before she sees anything!”
“What will Derpy do if she sees all this stuff?” Applebloom asked apprehensively.
“We have no idea,” Applejack said as she frantically helped the girls into position, “that’s what we’re worried about.”
“Look casual! She can’t know anything’s wrong!” Twilight directed. They tried to strike a nonchalant pose. If anything, it only made them stand out more. Twilight started to tell them so, but a third ring of the doorbell cut her off. She took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m opening the door…”
The door swung open. Derpy stood placidly on the stoop, apparently not bothered by the rain. She was wearing her mailbags, and she held a slightly soggy package in her mouth by the twine it was wrapped in. One of her eyes made contact with Twilight, while the other checked out something interesting in the door frame.
“Derpy!” Twilight said, trying to keep her voice from betraying her alarm and failing badly, “It’s so nice to see you! And you brought me my new book order, too! Why, I didn’t even know the post office started delivering on weekends!” She gave a shrill laugh, her eyes shifting back and forth.
The mailpony smiled with professional pride. Her good eye slid off of Twilight, noticing the odd positions of the ponies behind her. They were unmistakably trying to hide something. Her expression changed to one of confusion. Twilight quickly moved in front of her. “Well, you must have lots and lots of work to get to, so don’t let me keep you here…”
Derpy ignored her, curiously leaning sideways in an effort to see behind the other ponies. They leaned with her, trying to keep themselves between her and the game. Rainbow Dash shifted her footing as they did, accidentally bringing her hoof down on an errant d4.
“Ow!” she shouted, her leg kicking involuntarily, “Dang it!”
The die skittered across the floor and ricocheted off a bookcase. Every eye in the room followed it as it bounced around the library. Eventually it slid to a stop directly in front of Derpy. The room held its breath. Derpy stared at the little plastic pyramid, her face going blank as she recognised it. Slowly, her wayward eye swiveled around, until both of them were focused, laser-like, on the d4. She gently set down the package and shrugged the mailbags from her back, swinging the door shut behind her. She stepped into the library, no one daring to stop her.
Without saying a word, she walked over to the DM screen, sat down, and cleared her throat.
The heroes coughed as their vision returned to them. They were lying on a dusty plain, the smoking wreckage of the Pinkitania some distance behind them. The trails in the dirt behind them indicated that someone had dragged them to safety.
“We’re… alive?” said Applebloom in astonishment, looking around.
The landscape stretched away to the horizon, filled with rolling mountain ranges and twisting valleys, deep blue lakes and dark jungles. Towers and castles could be made out, faintly, in the distance, and rocky roads and worn paths criss-crossed the countryside. Every nook of the world seemed filled with danger and possibility. Even the jewel-blue sky above them seemed larger, somehow, as if it had needed to expand to reach the edges of the land.
A single figure stood before them, facing away. He leaned on a halberd, its point embedded in the soft soil. He wore a wide-brimmed bush hat and a military greatcoat, both faded with age. Perhaps he was an ex-soldier, or perhaps the coat was stolen. He didn’t seem like the type to tell. The adults seemed reluctant to speak, so Sweetie Belle steeled herself and greeted him.
“Um, hello…” she said, trying to be friendly, “What’s your name, sir?”
“My name?” he said, turning to reveal his face. It was covered with deep lines and scars from past battles. He wore a leather eye patch over one eye, with a single dragon’s tooth stitched into the center. He rubbed his stubbled chin, mulling over Sweetie Belle’s question. “I have lots of names. None of them too well-respected in these parts. Those that bother calling me anything just call me… the Stranger.”
“Cool…” said Scootaloo, unable to stop herself.
Applebloom couldn’t help but agree. Still, she remained cautious. “If it’s not too much trouble,” she said, “can I ask what you want?”
The Stranger considered this, pulling his pole-arm from the ground and resting it casually across his wiry shoulders. “I don’t want for much these days. It’s been some time since I lusted for combat, since I sought glory so greedily.” He looked away, sadly. “A warm meal, a soft place to sleep, that’s all I need, really. You, on the other hand,” he gestured to the girls, “you seem like you could use my help. Nothing sadder than a group of adventurers without an adventure.”
“You… you have an adventure for us?” said Applebloom.
He nodded. “Sure do. Real important one, too.” He gestured to the canvas bag slung over his shoulder. “I need you… to help me deliver a letter.”
“That’s all?” said Scootaloo, trying not to sound disappointed, “Just, like, walk to the post office?”
The Stranger grinned. “One does not simply walk to the post office.” He pointed the blade of his halberd at the landscape around them. “The Lich Empire is allied against us, and they will do anything in their power to stop us from delivering our crucial communiqués. In addition, there are many leagues between us and our destination, and many dangers therein. We will need to cross the icy peaks of the Devil’s Spine mountains, the deep chasms of the Death’s Grip Gorge, the orc strongholds of the Western Deserts, and, perhaps most terrifyingly, the black depths of the Soulless Swamp, crawling with blood-thirsty beavers!”
“M… maybe we can just go around the swamp.” Sweetie Belle said haltingly, “You know, since those beavers are so terrifying and all.”
“Good call.” said the Stranger, nodding in her direction, “Quick thinking like that will do you well on this journey.” He looked to the adults, who were still standing there, dumbfounded by his sudden appearance. “You are all welcome to join us.” he said with something like a hopeful twinkle in his eye, “For old time’s sake?”
Grimstar stared a moment longer. Finally coming to a decision, he walked over and extended his hand to the Stranger in a show of brotherhood. “I would like that, old friend. I must admit, I missed our companionship terribly. I feel I owe you an apology.”
Killthrust joined the wizard. “Truly, you were the greatest among us.” he said sagely.
“He’s right.” said Gracelove, “We never used to fight with each other when you were around.” The others nodded solemnly in agreement.
The Stranger waved off the apologies, but accepted Grimstar’s hand. “Let us not dwell on the past. There is much yet to be done.” He took up his halberd and led the party forward. “The road ahead is long and arduous, but we will surely prevail, together.” They headed towards the setting sun, their adventure only just beginning.
Eventually, the rain slowed to a stop. A few pegasus workers pushed the clouds aside, letting the sun shine through. A warm breeze blew as the sunlight gradually began to dry the damp earth.
The door to the library opened, and the CMC rushed out, laughing and full of energy. There were still a few hours of daylight left, and they were determined to make the most of them. Applebloom and Scootaloo found a pair of sticks and used them to duel with each other as they splashed through the puddles. Sweetie Belle chased after them, roaring as ferociously as her little lungs could manage.
Derpy exited the library soon after them, picking up her mailbags and continuing her duties. Twilight clicked the door shut behind her.
“Did… that actually just happen?” she said, still a little shell-shocked.
“I think so.” said Pinkie. She was being unusually quiet.
There was a long pause. Rarity eventually spoke up, her voice wavering with uncertainty, “Sh… should we tell the mayor?”
“What would we tell her?” Dash said with a shrug, “I mean, all we did was play a game, right?”
“A really fun game.” Fluttershy added, breathlessly, “I guess we should still do something, though.”
“The smart thing to do,” said Applejack, a little reluctantly, “would be to put all this stuff away and never talk about it again.”
There was another pause as they looked down at the game.
“We’re not going to do that, are we?” said Fluttershy. It was more a statement than a question. They went quiet again.
Twilight broke the silence. “I… kind of want to see what’s inside that Silver Pagoda.”
The floodgates broken, Rarity enthusiastically picked up the DM screen again. “Is it okay if I work in the Pinkitania?” she said, “I actually really liked that part.”
“Do you think Derpy would mind if I played her character?” Dash said, joining in, “Like, just for a few rounds?”
“I think Killthrust is pretty cool, too.” said Applejack, abandoning all pretenses of responsibility, “Maybe you could blow up another dragon?”
“Dash blew up a dragon!?” Pinkie Pie gasped, “See, this is why you guys can’t start this stuff without me!”
Twilight and her friends laughed and chatted excitedly, gathering around the rug again. There were still a few hours of daylight left, and they were determined to make the most of them.
The Stranger hefted his mailbags as he left the library. The young heroes ran through the streets before him, playing cheerfully. He smiled. He knew that he may never earn the forgiveness of those he had wronged in the past. He also knew, more than most, that redemption was a less a destination to reach than a road to travel. Perhaps, he thought, making those children happy had put him a few steps further along that road.
He shook his head, clearing his mind to focus on the task before him. He had a job to do. He had to deliver the message. And the message always got through.
Ponies Play D&D Part 3:
Applejack and Pinkie Pie’s Excellent Adventure
-No, wait, that’s terrible. How about-
Episode 3: Return of the Poni
-No good, I used that one last time-
Well, It Fits Better For This One
-You think I don’t know that?-
What Do You Want From Me? I’m Just a Title
-This is getting irritatingly meta. Let’s just go with-
Here’s Some More Nerd Ponies
“Come on, Spike! How long is this gonna take?”
“Hey, it’ll be done when it’s done, alright?”
Applejack narrowed her eyes. “It’s been months. How much time does it take to come up with a new campaign?”
“Look, do you want it done quick, or do you want it done right?” the little dragon huffed. He was surrounded on all sides by his guides and miniatures, covering what was usually Twilight’s writing desk. Applejack, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie craned their necks to get a look at his notes, but he snatched them up before they could see anything. “Hey, no peeking!”
“He’s always like this before a new campaign.” said Pinkie, pretending she hadn’t just been looking, “Spike’s a super perfectionist DM.”
“That’s right!” said Spike with a cocky grin, “You can’t rush perfection.”
“Yeah, sure.” Applejack snorted, “So what the heck am I supposed to do ‘til then? Now that the harvest is in storage I’ve got nothin’ to do ‘til Winter Wrap Up.”
“I’ve got a lot of free time, too.” said Fluttershy, “The cottage has been awfully quiet since all the little bunnies and everything started their hibernation.”
“And Sugarcube Corner’s kitchen is being rebuilt!” said Pinkie, “After that explosion that I had nothing to do with.”
“Well, tough cookies, sister.” said Spike, “I’m not rolling this out until it’s good and done. You’re gonna love it, too! I had to adapt the rules from six different games to be able to do everything I wanted, and now I’m customizing each of the areas for your characters.”
Applejack pulled a sour face. “Does that mean I’m stuck playing Dwarfy again?”
“Whats wrong with Dwarfy?” said Pinkie, “You don’t like Dwarfy? I love Dwarfy!”
Applejack shrugged. “Ehhh, I’m gettin’ kinda sick of playing a generic dwarf fighter when there are so many cool races and classes I haven’t even tried yet. I wanna experiment a little. Maybe try something crazy and different, like a treant.”
“I’d like to be a treant.” said Fluttershy.
“No, no! What? No!” Spike said, getting flustered, “I’ll have to start all over if you make new characters!”
Applejack rolled her eyes. “Well, fine. But I at least want to take a prestige class or multiclass or something. Dwarfy’s a long way off from bein’ optimized.”
“Aw, listen to you!” said Pinkie, chucking Applejack playfully on her shoulder, “A few months ago you were all, ‘Ah ain’t unner-stan’ this here dang ol’ game’, and now here you are, min-maxing like a champ!”
Applejack grinned sheepishly. “Heh, yeah. Guess I’ve gone native, huh?”
Spike rubbed his temples irritably. “You know, I’m not gonna finish this any faster if you all keep standing around yakking in my ear.”
“Okay, okay, we get the message.” sighed Applejack, “Come on, guys. I’ve got an idea.”
As they all turned to leave, the door to library’s study clicked open and Twilight popped her head out. Her hair was frazzled, and there were dark circles under her eyes.
“Hey, Pinkie, can I talk to you for a minute?” she said, stifling a yawn.
“Oh! We were just...” Pinkie started.
“It’s okay, go on ahead.” said Applejack, “We can meet up back at the barn later.” She turned back to Fluttershy, “So anyway, Fluttershy, I’ve been meanin’ to ask you somethin’ about chipmunks.”
“Oh, I know everything about chipmunks!” she said, following her out the door.
Pinkie squinted in the dim light of the study as she entered. Books and scrolls were stacked high around the room, even more so than usual. The only source of light came from several candles surrounding a desk in the corner. Pinned to the wall above it were a series of complicated diagrams Pinkie couldn’t even begin to understand.
“Wowsers,” she said, “Looks like you’ve been hitting the books pretty hard. So this is what you’ve been up to for the last few weeks!”
“Hmm? Oh, yeah, sorry I’ve been so distant lately.” said Twilight distractedly, sitting down at the desk, “I’ve been pretty busy working on a new spell.”
“Cool-cool-COOL!” shouted Pinkie, doing an energetic little dance in place, “What’s it do? Does it turn ponies into things, or blow things up, or make sparkles shoot out of things? Go on, tell-me-tell-me-tell-me!”
Twilight smiled wearily. “Nothing so dramatic. Not all spells can be sparkles and explosions.” She yawned again as she shuffled through her notes. “It’s a new method of magically assisted psychological analysis. It could be a boon to the mental health field. That is,” she grumbled, “If I can get it to work, of course.”
Pinkie stopped dancing and raised an eyebrow at Twilight. “Psychological? Like, for helping crazy ponies?”
“Ideally, yes.” Twilight said, chuckling slightly.
Pinkie looked at the piles of books and notes around the room, then back at Twilight. Her voice was suddenly serious. “This... this is for her, isn’t it?”
Twilight nodded, squeezing her eyes shut. “Yeah... yeah, it’s for her.”
“I thought she was getting better?” Pinkie said with concern, “She seemed okay the last time we saw her, didn’t she?”
“She’s not violent anymore, if that’s what you mean.” said Twilight, “But every time I talk to her, she seems so... lost. Half the time I don’t know if I’m talking to her or the Stranger.” She sniffed, tears beginning to bead in the corners of her eyes.
“Hey,” said Pinkie, putting a comforting hoof on her shoulder, “It’s not your fault.”
“I was the one who introduced her to the game.”
“None of us had any idea she’d react like that, Twilight.” Pinkie persisted, “You can’t blame yourself.”
Twilight blinked away her tears. “It’s not about blame, it’s about responsibility.” she said, managing to summon up a steely resolve, “I’m going to fix this. I swear it.”
“Okay, if you say so.” said Pinkie, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“That’s kind of the reason I asked you in here.” said Twilight, “Have you noticed how Applejack’s been acting lately?”
“What, Applejack?” said Pinkie, sightly taken aback, “What do you mean? I guess she’s a little grumpier than usual, but she always gets like that when the harvest season is over. Unless...” Pinkie cocked her head at Twilight. “Hold on... you don’t think... I mean, this is Applejack we’re talking about, here.”
“I’m not saying she’s turning into... you know.” said Twilight, “I’m just concerned, is all. You heard her talking earlier. She’s getting much deeper into the game than the rest of us ever have. I mean, multiclassing?” she gave an exasperated sigh, “There’s no going back once you start with that.”
“So, you want me to keep an eye on her? Keep her from going crazy?”
“I, uh...” Twilight blinked at her. “Well, when you put it like that, it sounds like a bad idea.”
“No-no-no, it’s a GREAT idea!” said Pinkie, the bounce returning to her step, “It’s like a mission! A quest! The quest to save Applejack’s marbles!”
“Just let me know if she starts acting strangely.” said Twilight, “And try to keep her from playing the game, if you can.”
“Aye-aye, captain!” said Pinkie with a plucky salute, “You can count on me!”
Twilight watched her as she bounced out of the study, a mare on a mission.
Act 1: Mac and Me
Sweet Apple Acres stood calm and still in the crisp late-autumn air. The trees’ branches rattled skeletally in the breeze, their fruit long since picked and their leaves mostly fallen. A farm is never truly at rest; there’s always work to be done somewhere. Still, it was a stark difference from the hustle and bustle of only a few weeks ago, when the last harvest of the year was in full swing. Now, the farm was eerily quiet, giving the impression that it was girding itself for the long winter to come. Pinkie Pie bounced her way along the rough dirt road leading to the barn, a bright splotch of color against the muted browns and grays of the landscape. The barn door creaked open as she approached and Applejack waved to her from the door frame.
“There you are! We’ve been waitin’ for you.” she said, letting her inside, “What was it Twi’ wanted to talk about?”
“Magic!” Pinkie blurted out, “Just... magic stuff. You know, ‘cause that’s what she does, right?”
“Studyin’ again, huh? Figures.” said Applejack, shaking her head bemusedly, “Sometimes I worry about that girl.”
Inside the barn barrels of apples were stacked to the ceiling, meticulously organised by cultivar. Despite how full the barn was packed it represented only a fraction of the total crop. Most of the harvest were sealed up airtight and sunk into the lake for long-term storage, where the cold and lack of air would keep them as fresh as the day they were picked well into spring. Applejack lead her friend through the maze-like columns of barrels.
“Come on, we’re set up over here.” she said.
“Yeah, the game, remember?” Applejack said with a lopsided grin.
Pinkie thought fast. “Hey, uh, don’t you want to do something else? Like, uhh...” she drew a blank, “...stuff?” After mentally kicking herself, she tried harder, looking for any excuse. “I thought Spike wasn’t finished with his campaign? We don’t have a DM.”
“Sure we do.” Applejack said confidently, “I called in a favor.”
They rounded a stack of barrels, coming on an open space lit by an old kerosene lantern. A rough circle of hay bails were arranged around a large wooden spool, tipped on its side and serving as a makeshift table. Fluttershy and Big Macintosh were already seated and waiting for them.
“Nice, eh?” said Applejack, “It’s a mite chilly in here, but we’ve got some hot cider and plenty of apples to snack on. And the hay, if you get sick of apples. ‘Course, then you gotta choose between food and furniture.”
“Big Macintosh?” said Pinkie, “I didn’t know you were into Dungeons and Dragons.”
“Uh...” he started.
“He ain’t, normally.” Applejack cut him off, “But he owes me one. Right, big bro?”
“Whatever you say, sis.” the big stallion drawled, “But I still don’t get why you need me. I never even played this game before. Wouldn’ one a’ ya’ll make a better dragon-master?”
“I told you,” Applejack said testily, “Me and Fluttershy don’t feel like it. Spike’s great and all, but he can’t improvise worth diddly squat. And Pinkie Pie’s games always end up blowin’ us all to kingdom come.”
“That’s my style!” Pinkie said proudly, “Gotta end with a bang!”
“I, uh, don’t think that phrase means what you think it means.” said Fluttershy.
“So anyway, you’re the best we got.” continued Applejack, “Just do it like I told you, and you’ll do fine.”
“Okay,” said Big Macintosh with a resigned sigh, “Here goes nothin’, I guess.”
Zinnadiana Lyreplucker the twenty-seventh leaned back in her chair, sipping her ale. The tavern around her buzzed with life. It was the kind of dive bar that adventurers always preferred: cheap liquor, an inexplicably large number of weapons available for purchase behind the counter, and a high tolerance for bar brawls. Seedy-looking characters of all shapes and sizes were packed into every corner of the room, talking, drinking, playing cards, and doing their best to project an air of menace.
“I don’t like places like this, Zinny.” said her companion.
“I guess it’s a little clichéd,” said the bard, “But we’ve gotta start somewhere. They gave you a booster seat, right?”
“That’s not what I mean.” said Gracelove Silentall, halfling cleric. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “A member of the Order of the Silver Star shouldn't be seen in a house of such ill repute.”
“Pssh. Clerics.” said Zinnadiana dismissively, “Try and show ‘em a good time, and all they do is complain. Where’s our third, by the way? We ought to get ourselves equipped if we plan on seeing some action.”
“I haven’t seen...”
There was a crash as the doors to the tavern flew open, and a man clad in leather armor with a dark green hood stepped through. All eyes turned to watch him as he strode boldly up to the bar and rapped forcefully on the counter top get the bartender's attention. He lowered his hood, revealing an unruly shock of red hair and a pointed beard.
“Greetings, barkeep! My name is Marcus Ealdræd.” he said, flashing a devil-may-care grin, “I require a pint of ale and a shank of mutton, and I’d like to take a look at your selection of scimitars.”
“Aw, you’re not playing Dwarfy?” said Pinkie, looking crestfallen.
“Nah, it’s like I said earlier.” said Applejack, “I want to try out some of the other races and classes. Marcus is a ranger I built around duel-wielding melee combat. He’s a human, too. Gotta love that bonus feat.”
“How did you say that last name, again?” asked Fluttershy.
“Like ‘all-dread’. Cool, huh?” grinned Applejack.
“Oh, is that how you pronounce that little squashed-together a and e?” said Pinkie, squinting at the character sheet.
“Beats me.” Applejack shrugged, “Just thought it looked cool. You guys sure you don’t want to make new characters too? We don’t exactly have a balanced party, here.”
“No way!” said Pinkie firmly, “Every party could use a bard.”
“Yeah, but a bard and a cleric?” said Applejack, “That’s a little defense-heavy. Anyway, I figured Fluttershy was more the type to play a druid.”
“Oh, I thought about it.” said Fluttershy, “But Spike likes to use a lot of undead monsters, so I went with a cleric. The Order of the Silver Star is dedicated to the eradication of necrotic creatures.”
“Necrotic creatures, eh?” said Applejack, tapping her chin with her hoof thoughtfully, “Hey, there’s an idea! Big Macintosh, try to work in some undead stuff.” She bent over her character sheet, scribbling some notes. “I can get a truckload a’ bonuses if I pick that as my favored enemy.”
“Uh, sure,” said Big Macintosh, struggling to keep up with their conversation, “Let’s say there’s a haunted castle, or something, just west a’...”
“Whoa whoa whoa whoa, what are you doing?” Applejack cut him off, “You can’t just tell us where it is. I told you, no railroading!”
Big Macintosh blinked at her. “So, how’ll ya’ll know where to go if I can’t tell you?”
“That’s a knowledge skill check, duh!” said Applejack, rolling her eyes. She pulled out her DM’s guide, flipping to the appropriate entry. “See? I put a buncha’ skill points into Knowledge (streetwise), and darn it, I’m gonna use ‘em!”
“So let me get this straight,” Big Macintosh said dubiously, “If I just tell you, it’s ‘railroading’, but if we roll some dice and THEN I tell you, it’s fine?”
“Exactly.” Applejack said brightly, “See, I told ya you’d get the hang of it!”
“Word on the street says there’s a haunted castle just west of here.” said Marcus, sitting down at the table, “You want in?”
“Sounds like a blast!” said Zinnadiana.
“It would be my pleasure, Mr. Ealdræd.” said Gracelove, demurely.
“Super!” said the ranger, clapping his hands together, “Need to pick up any weapons, or are you good?”
In response, Zinnadiana plucked a few discordant notes on her lute, causing a bayonet to slide forcefully out of the instrument's neck with a barely audible hiss. She grinned at him. “Plus, I’ve always got my trusty steam-crossbow.”
“Cool, cool.” nodded the ranger, “How about you, Gracelove?”
“I have no need of earthly weapons.” said the diminutive cleric, “My faith will protect me.”
“Suit yourself.” said Marcus, “I’ll get us some field rations and torches before we leave.”
“Make sure you get a ten-foot pole, too.” said Zinnadiana, “We might need to poke some stuff.”
“All right, that’s enough hanging out in the tavern,” said Applejack impatiently, “Lets pick up the pace, here.”
“Hey, go easy on the big guy.” said Pinkie, “This is his first time as DM.”’
“I think he’s doing really well, actually.” said Fluttershy. She smiled encouragingly at him.
“He’s doing... fine.” said Applejack, giving her brother a doubtful look, “I guess he’s got the right motivation. Right, bro?”
“Hey, uh, let’s just move on, huh?” Big Macintosh said quickly. He smiled stiffly, his eyes shifting back and forth.
Pinkie exchanged a look with Fluttershy. She shrugged back at her, but remained silent.
The red stallion cleared his throat. “So, anyway, the castle’s big and scary, and it’s got bats flyin’ around it an’ stuff. The front doors open into a long hallway...”
The hallway stretched out before the party. The walls were made of smooth gray stone, dimly lit by a few ancient, dripping candle holders and decorated with a series of faded portraits. They move forward cautiously, brushing cobwebs out of their way.
“Nice place.” said Marcus, looking around, “Bit of a fixer-upper.”
“Wait,” said Gracelove, halting their progress, “What’s that up ahead?”
Marcus squinted in the hazy gloom of the corridor. There was indeed something ahead, standing in the intersection of two hallways. The creature looked like a large cat, but very thin, almost emaciated. It was dark blue, bordering on black, and two strange, snake-like appendages slithered at its shoulders. Grooming itself casually with one of its six paws, it seemed to pay the adventurers no heed.
“Aw, sweet, displacer beast!” said Marcus, gleefully unsheathing his scimitars.
“Hold up,” said Zinnadiana anxiously, “I’ve never seen them act like this. Aren’t they usually the type to sneak up on you?”
“Nah, we got the drop on ‘im.” Marcus flashed his trademark grin, “My stealth score’s though the roof.”
“Zinny’s right.” said Gracelove, “We should exercise caution.”
“You’re over-thinking it.” said Marcus, “Just get your buffs and heals ready, and I’ll make with the choppity-chop.”
The ranger crept along the stone corridor, his footfalls barely making a sound. The displacer beast faced away from him, appearing oblivious to his approach. Gracelove and Zinnadiana held their breath. When he was finally within range he leaped forward, spinning his scimitars savagely.
“Eat it, squid-kitty!”
The image of the displacer beast shimmered and disappeared as the blades passed through it, slipping out of his hands and clattering uselessly on the flagstone floor. Marcus froze in place, feeling hot breath on his neck. He slowly turned his head, coming face to face with a wall of needle-like teeth.
A tentacle shot out, wrapping itself around the ranger’s torso and lifting him into the air.
“Marcus!” shouted Zinnadiana, rushing forward to aid her comrade.
“It’s okay, I’ve got this under... oomph!” he was cut off as the beast slammed him into the stone wall, “...Okay, maybe I could use some help.” he admitted, wheezing.
“I’m on it!” shouted Zinnadiana. She launched a volley of bolts from her auto-crossbow. The beast’s free tentacle lashed out, flicking them out of the air effortlessly.
Dropping her crossbow, the bard dove into the fray with her lute’s bayonet drawn. She played a stirring tune as she charged, sliding up the frets in a rapid glissando. The blade began to glow with arcane energy.
The beast tossed Marcus back down the corridor over Zinnadiana’s head, bringing both of its tentacles to bear on the new threat. The ranger landed hard behind her on the cold stone floor, the air knocked out of his lungs.
Zinnadiana didn’t waste the brief opportunity, ducking under the tentacle and jabbing her blade deeply into the creature’s side. The magical energy discharged, crackling across its flesh as it roared with pain. Rearing back on its hind legs, it brought its powerful claws down on the bard, knocking her to the ground. It staggered backwards momentarily, wrapping a tentacle around the lute still impaled in its side. Wincing, it gingerly pulled the blade out of the wound. It turned back to face the party, tightening its grip on the instrument and crushing it with a sad series of twanging noises. A deep growl rumbled in its throat.
Marcus lifted his head, his vision returning to him. Across the hallway, he could see Zinnadiana sprawled out on the floor, still stunned from the earlier attack. Just beyond her, the displacer beast advanced on the tiny, unarmed cleric, its form shimmering and shifting like a mirage.
“Gracelove!” he shouted, “Hold on, I’m coming!” He hauled himself to his feet, rushing forward.
Suddenly, he felt his stomach lurch as the floor dropped out from under him. He fell headlong into an empty shaft, far too deep to see the bottom. Thinking fast, he pulled a dagger from his belt and jammed it into a crack between the stones of the wall, arresting his fall several yards below the trapdoor. He pulled out a second dagger and began to slowly pull himself back up the shaft, using the blades as improvised pitons. It was an agonisingly slow way to climb.
“Dang it!” he shouted, inching his way up bit by bit, “Should have... put more... points... into... Climb!” Sounds of the battle above echoed indistinctly against the walls around him. His panic only worsened when the sounds went suddenly quiet.
“Gracelove? Gracelove, speak to me!” he shouted, straining his aching muscles in an effort to climb faster. As he neared the top, a small silhouette moved into view above him, offering a tiny hand to help pull him up.
“Thank the Gods, you’re okay!” he said, accepting her hand and cresting the ledge of the pit, “What happened? Where’s the displacer beast?”
“Oh, I took care of him.” she said with a sly smile.
“How could you possibly...” he started, then noticed a wobbly green form just behind the cleric.
“Gah! Cube!” he shrieked, stumbling backwards and almost falling into the pit again.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Jiggly’s friendly!” said Gracelove, “I summoned him to eat the displacer beast. Their illusions don’t work on gelatinous cubes. See? No eyeballs.”
On closer inspection, Marcus could make out a vague shape slowly churning within the cube’s squelching mass. He stared at it disbelievingly. “So, you actually trained this thing?” he said, “I thought they only had the intelligence of an amoeba.”
“Yes, but Mr. Jiggly is extra smart.” she said with motherly pride, “Aren’tcha, boy? You’re so smart! Yes you are! Yes you are! Who’s a good cube? You want a Jiggly Snack?”
The cube quivered in what could generously be described as anticipation.
“Okay, here you go, boy!” She reached into her bag, pulling out a screaming zombie head, which she tossed to the cube. It sunk into the goo and began to dissolve.
Marcus looked away, feeling slightly ill. “Hey, where’s Zinnadiana?” he said with sudden concern.
“I’m over here.” said a sad voice from down the hall. Zinnadiana was standing bent over the crushed remains of her instrument. “I’m fine, but the dang thing jacked up my lute.”
“Oh, Zinny,” said Gracelove mournfully, “I’m so sorry.”
“Ah, it’s okay.” the bard shrugged, “I still have my travel harpsichord.”
“All right, what the heck was that all about?” said Applejack angrily. Big Macintosh swallowed nervously under her glare.
“What’s the matter, AJ?” said Pinkie, “That was a great encounter! Didn’t you like the displacer beast?”
“The displacer beast was awesome, I’m not talking about that.” said Applejack curtly, “I’m talking about that trapdoor. It’s awful convenient that it just happened to go off when it did. How many times did we pass over that spot?”
“Ya’ll kept jumpin’ over it!” said Big Macintosh, starting to sweat, “And Fluttershy was too light to set it off.”
“I trust Big Macintosh.” said Fluttershy, trying to defuse the situation, “I’m sure he’s playing by the rules.”
“He’d better be.” said Applejack, still glaring at her brother, “We wouldn’t want somepony to say something unfortunate, would we?”
“What do you mean by that?” said Pinkie, raising an eyebrow.
“Nothin’!” said Big Macintosh, “She means nothin’!”
“And besides,” continued Applejack, “We still haven’t seen any undead yet. I burned my favored enemy for that, and for what? And we could use some character motivation, here. Your story line's a joke! So far we’ve just been wandering around a deserted castle like morons. I mean, who’s castle is this suppose’ to be, anyway? Who are we fightin’ against?”
Big Macintosh snorted, starting to get annoyed. “She’s an evil vampire queen, and she’s holdin’ all the innocent farmers hostage!” He blurted out, realizing what he was saying too late to stop himself. He fell silent, looking at his sister nervously. Across the table, Pinkie Pie stifled a giggle.
“That’s...” said Applejack, blinking, “...actually pretty good. You just come up with that off the top a’ your head?”
Big Macintosh coughed. “Sudden flash a’ inspiration, I guess.”
“Well, all right then.” said Applejack, rubbing her hooves together, “Let’s go kick her butt!”
The heavy wooden doors creaked ominously as the heroes pushed them open. They entered a cavernous room, devoid of windows and filled with a thick, oily mist. Twin staircases curved elegantly at either side of the room, mirroring each other and meeting at a raised balcony overlooking an ostentatious ballroom floor. At the center of the balcony was a raised platform, on which rested an elaborately decorated coffin.
“Okay, here’s the plan.” said Marcus, “Me and Gracelove’ll watch your back, and you shank her with what’s left of your lute.”
Zinnadiana looked uncertainly at the sharp shard of wood that used to be her lute’s neck. It did seem to make a decent stake. “You sure you just want to stab her while she’s sleeping?” she asked, “That doesn’t seem sporting.”
“Hey, XP is XP.” he shrugged, “Besides, I don’t want to get caught off-guard like last time. Who knows what kind of minions she has waiting for us?”
“I’ll have Mr. Jiggly patrol the lower level.” said Gracelove, “That way, each of us can keep an eye on a stairway.”
“Good idea,” said Marcus, “I think that covers all our bases. Let’s do it.”
Zinnadiana inched toward the coffin, the stake raised above her head. She glanced back at each of her allies, who gave her a nod when they were in position. She took a deep breath, then slowly lifted the lid. She paused a moment, staring into it.
“What?” said Marcus, “What’s wrong?”
“The coffin,” she said blankly, “It’s empty.”
Cackling laughter reverberated through the room, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. The mist around them swirled and coalesced, forming into the shape of a woman floating over their heads. The vampire had long, tangled white hair and a gaunt, feral face, and it wore flowing black robes. It grinned devilishly, showing off its sharp fangs.
“BLAH!” it shouted, “I’m the Vampire Queen Apel’Jek, and I suuuuuuuuuck!” It flew around them mockingly. “Also, I’m ugly and my face looks like a butt!”
Pinkie Pie erupted in a bubbling fit of laughter. She doubled over, clutching her sides with tears streaming down her face. Fluttershy suppressed a giggle of her own, looking nervously between Big Macintosh and Applejack.
Appleja ck glared at her brother. “Oh, har har.” she said, “Real freakin’ mature.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about sis.” said Big Macintosh, trying to keep his lips from curling into a grin.
“Come on AJ, that was funny!” said Pinkie, still snorting uncontrollably.
“It was childish, is what it was.” said Applejack. She paused, a sadistic smile flashing across her face. She looked her brother dead in the eye. “Just like when Big Macintosh used to borrow my dolls to play ‘mommy’.”
Big Macintosh exploded with rage. “You TOLD! You SWORE you wouldn’ tell!” He launched himself over the table, barreling into his sister and tackling her to the ground.
“Bring it on, bro!” said Applejack, maneuvering into a headlock, “Wouldn’t be the first time I kicked your tail!”
They rolled across the barn’s floor, kicking up a cloud of dust as they wrestled. Although Big Macintosh had a definite size advantage, the two were fairly evenly matched. Years of sibling rivalry gave Applejack the experience to be able to hold her own against her older brother.
Pinkie looked at them for moment. She turned to Fluttershy. “So, this is all kinds of awkward, huh?” she said conversationally, “What was it you were saying about chipmunks earlier?”
“Shouldn’t we stop them?” said Fluttershy. She watched anxiously as the brawling siblings bumped into a barrel, knocking it over and spilling its contents across the floor.
“Nah, they’re fine.” she said casually, “All brothers and sisters get into a scrap like this every now and then. Trust me, I grew up with two sisters myself.” She bent down to pick up one of the apples that had rolled near her. “All right, fuji's, score!”
“Oh, well, okay, I guess...” said Fluttershy reluctantly. She furrowed her brow as a thought occurred to her. “Wait, all brothers and sisters? You mean, even little Applebloom...?”
“Especially little Applebloom.” said Pinkie, “I’ll bet she’s a biter, too. The youngest ones are always biters.” She crunched on her apple.
The siblings rolled to a stop, running out of steam. They each shakily stood up again, dusty, a little bruised, but none too worse for wear. Applejack looked around for her hat, her chest still heaving.
“Okay... huff...” she panted, “You... huff... got that... huff... outta your... huff... system.” She found her hat and slapped it back into place, managing to catch her breath. “You wanna get back to the game?”
“You’re kidding!” said Big Macintosh, “I did everything you asked me to, but you still told! Deal’s off!”
“Listen,” said Applejack, digging in her heels, “You and I both know you got nothin’ to do for the rest of the day. Unless some work just falls outta the sky, neither of us is goin’ nowhere.”
Fluttershy’s ears perked up. “Oh! I, uh, just remembered!” she said suddenly. All eyes turned to look at her. Her instincts told her to hide, but she soldiered on. “Big Macintosh, ah, agreed to help me with my animals.” she said her eyes shifting nervously, “One of them is, um, sleeping in the wrong place.”
Applejack looked at her skeptically. “Ain’t that somethin’ you could handle on your own?”
“It’s, uh, a bear.” she said, thinking quickly, “Aaaaand he’s really heavy, so he, uh, agreed to help me move him?” Her voice raised into an almost plaintive squeak.
Applejack looked doubtful.
“Hold on,” said Pinkie thoughtfully, “Are you talking about Harry the bear? The one you were house-sitting for that one time?”
“Y...yes!” said Fluttershy, “That’s him all right! Good ol’... Harry!” She laughed in what she hoped was a casual and disarming way.
Applejack glanced between her and her brother, who was putting on his best poker face. “Well...” she said eventually, “I wouldn’t want to get between you and your work...” Over her shoulder, Big Macintosh shot Fluttershy a silent, desperate ‘thank you’. “I guess you’re off the hook this time, big bro.”
The stallion and the pegasus got up to leave. Pinkie called after them on their way out.
“Hey, Fluttershy!” she said, “You know, you really need to introduce me to Harry sometime.”
“Y... yeah...” said Fluttershy, a rictus grin plastered across her face, “I s...sure do! Well, we’ll, uh, s...see you both later!” The two made their exit quickly, before things could get more complicated.
Applejack snorted, kicking up some dust with her hooves. “Well, that was a wash.” she sulked.
“It wasn’t all that bad.” said Pinkie, “We still had some fun, right?”
“Yeah, but we didn’t get to finish!” Applejack huffed. “And now we’re down a DM and a third player.”
“Maybe we could do something else.” said Pinkie, remembering her mission. She scrunched up her face in thought. “Why don’t we check up on your sister? Isn’t she hanging out with her friends at the clubhouse today?”
“I dunno,” said Applejack doubtfully, “Are we already desperate enough to start playing with little kids?”
Pinkie rolled her eyes. “I meant we should just try hanging out with them.” she said, “You know, your beloved little sister? Maybe have a heartwarming family moment?” She paused, trying to think of a more compelling reason. “Um... I think Rarity’s keeping an eye on them. It’d be nice to see her, right?”
“Hey, yeah!” said Applejack, her face lighting up, “Rarity’s a great DM! Good idea, Pinkie!”
“But... but I didn’t...” Pinkie started, but Applejack was already on her way to the door. She slumped her shoulders in defeat. “Aw, man... This quest is gonna be harder than I thought...”
Want to read commentary and story notes? Check out my author blog!
Act 2: The Children’s Crusade
“Quest log, day two!” Pinkie narrated quietly to herself as she crunched through the leaves, just behind Applejack. It had actually been less than an hour since she’d started, but she wasn’t sweating the details. “Subject ‘Applejack’ is showing signs of dementia roleplayicus, AKA ‘going bug-nutty in the melon’. Requires constant supervision and separation from all role-playing materials. I will attempt to use familial social interaction to...”
“Pinkie, will you stop whispering to yourself?” said Applejack, “It’s creepin’ me out.”
“Oh, uh, sorry.” said Pinkie, “How far do we have left to go? It feels like we’ve been walking forever.”
“Hold yer horses, we’re almost there.” said Applejack. They crested a hill and the clubhouse came into view.
It had been almost a year since the kids had fixed the old place up, and the fresh lick of paint Applebloom had applied had begun to fade a little. It no longer looked like a brand new building, but it was nowhere near as dilapidated as it was before they started. Rather, it had taken on a homey and lived-in feel. The piping sound of children’s laughter could be heard faintly through the walls, along with a few bangs and crashes.
Applejack knocked on the door. “Hey, sis, it’s me an’ Pinkie!” she shouted, “Let us in!”
There was a shuffling sound from inside, and a small panel built into the door at child-height slid open. A pair of orange eyes stared up at her suspiciously through the slot.
“What’s the password?”
“Oh, come on!” said Applejack, “You know darn well it’s me!”
“Don’t matter. Nopony gets in without the password.”
Applejack sighed, shooting a glance at Pinkie Pie, who giggled back at her. “Okay, fine, you win.” she said. She leaned down to whisper through the slot. “I eat boogers for breakfast.”
“Heh heh. Okay, come on in. We’re playin’ Dungeons!”
“Oh, great.” said Pinkie dismally. She caught herself, looking back at Applejack. “I mean, oh! Great! That’s so great! Isn’t that great?”
A few deadbolts clicked into place, and the door swung open. The clubhouse was decorated sparsely, with most of the furniture consisting of old things the Apple family had donated. The beaten-up chairs and wardrobes looked old-fashioned and out of place among the fillies’ other possessions, but they seemed to like them well enough. Pinned to one wall was a parchment labeled ‘Cutie Marks’ with a long list of professions, each crossed out. The floor was strewn with toys, ranging from plush animals to the hard plastic ‘action figures’ that Scootaloo preferred.
Applebloom returned to the corner of the clubhouse her friends had staked out. Rarity was seated there with the slightly manic look on her face that she always had whenever she was in the company of her sister’s friends for more than a few hours. She waved to the two of them as they entered.
“Hello Applejack!” she said, “Oh, and Pinkie Pie, as well! What brings you both out here?”
“I could ask you the same question.” said Applejack, “I thought you weren’t too keen on babysittin’.”
“We’re not babies!” interjected Scootaloo.
“You know how it is.” said Rarity, ignoring her, “My services as DM are in high demand lately. I can hardly turn down my sister and her little friends, can I?” Scootaloo huffed at the word ‘little’, but was again ignored.
“Guess not.” Applejack shrugged, “So, what’s with all this stuff?” She gestured at the toys on the floor, which seemed to be arranged deliberately.
“Those are our characters.” explained Applebloom, “Spike won’t let us borrow his toys, so we gotta use our own.”
“Yeah!” said Sweetie Belle enthusiastically, “I’m Miss Kitty, an’ Rarity is Fuzzy Bear, an’ Applebloom is Action Colt, an’ Scootaloo is Battle-Damage Batmare.”
“Huh. You know, that’s not a bad idea.” said Applejack, looking appraisingly at the set up, “I guess anything could work as a miniature with a little imagination.”
“Trust me,” said Rarity, “Imagination is one thing these girls have in abundance.”
“Neat!” said Pinkie Pie. “So, who’s the big bunny?” She pointed to an over-sized stuffed rabbit in the corner.
“Billy Bunny’s usually the monster.” said Sweetie Belle, “‘Cause he’s too big to be a good guy.”
“Come on an’ pick out one for yourself.” said Applebloom. She drug Applejack over to a toy chest on the other side of the room.
“I’ll help,” said Scootaloo, “I know where all the good ones are.”
“Let me help too!” said Sweetie Belle, not wanting to be left out. The three fillies dug through the chest as Applejack watched in amusement.
Remembering her mission again, Pinkie Pie jumped at the opportunity to talk to Rarity alone. She leaned over, whispering, “Listen, Rarity, I need your...”
“Thank Celestia you’re here!” Rarity whispered back urgently, cutting her off. “I really need your help!”
“I... you do?” Pinkie blinked, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing so far.” she said, her eyes shifting nervously, “I just don’t want to be out numbered.”
“What, by the kids?” Pinkie snickered, “You’re not afraid of them, are you?”
“Of course not!” balked Rarity. She cocked her head, reconsidering. “Well, not individually, at least. But when they get together, things tend to get...” her voice lowered to a bare whisper, “...messy.”
“Oh, is that all it is?” said Pinkie, nudging her in the ribs playfully, “You worry too much, Rarity.”
“I just don’t want to lose control of the situation.” Rarity insisted, “I’m not as good at this as Fluttershy is.”
“You’ll do fine.” Pinkie said, waving away her concerns, “But listen, I seriously need your help with...”
“Hey Pinkie!” Applejack shouted from over by the toy chest, “You wanna be the stuffed rhinoceros or the ninja lizard?”
“Um, I uh...” stuttered Pinkie, “The lizard, I guess.”
“All right, that means I’m the rhino.” Applejack said, sitting down between her and Rarity. “What were you two talkin’ about?
“Uh... nothing.” said Pinkie, looking downcast.
“Well, anyhow,” said Applejack, either not noticing her distress or ignoring it, “I’ve been trying to figure out my class.”
“Oh, you’re not playing Dwarfy?” said Rarity, “That’s too bad. You gave him such a charming ‘I don’t know what’s going on’ quality.”
“Yeah, well, that wasn’t exactly on purpose.” Applejack grumbled. She turned her attention to her character. “Let’s see... We’ve got your rogue, of course, and Pinkie’s bard,” she said, flipping through the kids’ character sheets, “Scootaloo’s ninja, Applebloom’s cowboy, and Sweetie Belle’s... ballerina.” She cocked an eyebrow at the little unicorn, who beamed back at her. She shrugged, continuing, “Anyway, we could use a tank and a healer. That says ‘paladin’ to me.”
“What about your race?” asked Rarity.
“Oh! Oh! You should be an orc!” said Applebloom.
“An orc?” asked Applejack , “Why’s that?”
“I dunno,” the little filly shrugged, “I just like saying ‘orc’. Orc-orc-orc!”
The other girls joined in. “Orc-orc-orc-orc-orc!”
“Stop that, children!” Rarity said sternly, “You sound like trained seals.”
“I guess I could try a half-orc.” Applejack said dubiously, “Would that even work as a paladin?”
“Well, you said you wanted to experiment.” said Pinkie, “That sounds pretty experimental to me.”
“More like just plain mental.” Applejack furrowed her brow. “The stat bonuses for half-orcs are all wrong. And paladin’s can be kinda dull, anyway.”
“It’s a roleplaying challenge, I’ll grant you that.” said Rarity, “Why not try what I do in these situations?”
“What’s that?” asked Applejack.
“Add a little exotic flair!” Rarity winked, “Why not call him a half-orc samurai? It would mesh well with my eastern motif.”
“Hey, that could work.” Pinkie nodded, “After all, a samurai is just a paladin with an accent, right?”
“Accent, huh?” Applejack thought it over, rubbing her chin, “I... guess that could work.” she shrugged, “Eh, what the heck. What’ve I got to lose?”
“That’s the spirit!” said Rarity, “Since you’re new, do you want to just show up with the rest of us, or would you prefer a big entrance?”
“Big entrance! Big entrance!” said Applebloom, jumping with enthusiasm.
“Now, Applebloom,” Rarity admonished her, “It’s Applejack’s character, so it’s her decision.”
“Gotta go with Applebloom on this one.” Applejack grinned and gave the filly a sisterly noogie, “Either go big, or go home, right?”
“All right,” said Rarity, “If you’re ready, then let’s begin.”
Wind whistled through the rocky spires of the Black Mountains of Elldör. The gnarled series of peaks jutted out of the landscape like the serrated blade of a knife, dividing the surrounding plains and leaving only a few narrow passages between them. These paths made for a claustrophobic journey, surrounding travelers in a maze of high rock walls. Deep, sharp shadows cut across them, leaving recesses wreathed in darkness on even the brightest days. Any creature so inclined could easily use these to make themselves nearly invisible to unwary travelers, right up to the moment they struck. This was a dangerous place for those without quick reflexes and a quicker blade. This was rogue country.
Darlynn Evansong the Fair, elvish archer, professional spy, and agent provocateur, led an unlikely band of heroes through the mountain canyon. She was accompanied by her faithful friend and bard, who regaled her with stories of her recent exploits to keep up her spirits.
“And that’s how we defeated the evil vampire queen!” Zinnadiana finished triumphantly, “And how I got this funky-sweet banjolele!” She plucked a few notes on her new instrument, the notes echoing off of the stone walls, and sang gaily, “My dog has fleeeeas... ”
“A stirring tale!” said the elf, “I surely never want for entertainment when you’re around, Zinnadiana.”
The bard bowed flamboyantly. “Always happy to help!” she said, “Though I’d think your current companions would have that area covered anyway.” She pointed at the young adventurers, who were rushing up to meet them.
“Miss Evansong! Miss Evansong!” shouted Scootaloo, “I found a frog! You want me to assassinate it?” She twirled her num-chucks.
“I... what?” stuttered Darlynn, “It’s just a frog. Leave it alone.”
“But it could be a dire frog!” insisted the stealthy assassin.
Applebloom tipped her stetson. “I could hogtie the varmant, I reckon, darn tootin’.”
“I have a plus-two tu-tu!” said Sweetie Belle, apropos of nothing.
Darlynn’s keen elfin senses detected that she was losing control of her charges. She decided to focus them on the task at hand. “Okay, comrades,” she said, “It’s time I tell you why I brought you here.”
“Finally!” said Applebloom, “‘Bout time ya stopped being cagey with yer plan, consarn it!”
Darlynn bent down and began drawing a map in the dirt. “These mountains divide the kingdom of Elldör from the Mithraisian Empire. The two countries have been in constant conflict for centuries, with only the difficulty in crossing the mountains preventing all-out war. Now, six weeks ago I received a communique from the Parliament of the Emerald Court. They wish to prevent the upcoming succession of the Archduchess of Plinith, a small principality of Mithrais, which would make her next in line for the throne. Given the emperor's recent failing health and her perceived weakness among the nobility, her ascension could lead to a power struggle and allow Counsel of Elders to seize control of the entire eastern region!”
Her allies stared at her blankly while she expanded her map across the canyon floor, . “Now, keep in mind that modern Mithrais is an empire in name only, having lost most of their lands in the Three Plains War over a decade ago...”
“Um, I’m gonna stop you there, Rarity.” said Applebloom, “But when in all a’ this do we start fightin’ monsters?”
“The Counsel of Elders ARE monsters.” Rarity scoffed, “I haven’t even gotten to the part where they manipulated the market price of the barley harvest. Think of the poor serfs!”
“No offence, sis,” said Sweetie Belle, “But isn’t this a little, uh, boring?”
“Yeah, booooooo!” added Scootaloo helpfully.
“Boring!?” said Rarity, narrowing her eyes, “It’s not boring, it’s intrigue!”
Scootaloo rolled her eyes at her. “Who cares about that?” she said, “I just wanna hit evil stuff with sharp stuff.”
“Well I... That’s just...” Rarity threw a desperate look at Pinkie and Applejack. “Come on, you two, back me up here!”
Applejack coughed awkwardly. “Well, uh, I guess it couldn’ hurt to throw in a random encounter or two.”
Rarity sputtered. “Random encounter!?" she said, spitting the phrase as if it were a personal insult, "I don’t do random encounters. What’s the point of fighting without the proper character motivation?”
“Fun?” Pinkie suggested.
“XP?” added Applejack.
Rarity waived her hoof dismissively. “I’m sorry, but that’s just not how I do things.”
“I’ll do it!” said Scootaloo. There was a short silence as the adults looked at her.
“I don’t know, Scootaloo,” Rarity said hesitantly, “I’m not sure you’re ready for the responsibility of running a campaign.”
This was clearly the wrong tactic to use. Scootaloo’s mane bristled. “Am too!” she said, “You always treat us like little kids, but we can do stuff just as good as you can!”
“Yeah!” said Applebloom, “All three of us could do it together. We’re good at doin’ stuff together.”
“I don’t know...” said Rarity.
“Come on, sis, you never let us be in charge.” said Sweetie Belle. She looked up at her sister, her eyes going misty.
“Don’t you try that on me again!” said Rarity, “As if I didn’t catch you practicing this morning.”
“Aw heck, Rar, just let ‘em do it!” said Applejack, “At least so we can quit arguin’ and get back to the game. I ain’t even done nothin’ yet.”
Rarity slumped her shoulders. “Okay,” she said, “I suppose letting you run one or two encounters won’t hurt. Maybe it’ll help you appreciate how much work this is.”
“Hey, yeah!” said Pinkie, “It’ll be, I dunno, educational, or something.”
“Just make sure it’s dramatic,” said Rarity.
“And challenging!” said Applejack.
“And fun, right?” Pinkie added, looking at them accusingly.
“Don’t worry about it.” said Scootaloo as she flipped through the Monster Manual, “I’ve got the perfect thing...”
“So that sums up the political situation of the Eastern region.” Darlynn continued her story, “Now, it gets really complicated once the West gets involved...”
Suddenly, a slimy blue arm shot out and grabbed her, clamping over her mouth. Before anyone could react it pulled her deep into the shadows.
“Darlynn!?” shouted Zinnadiana, drawing her banjolele, “Darlynn, are you okay? Speak to us!” She pressed a button on the instrument's neck and a pair of axe-blades popped out the side of its resonator. She drew the remaining party into a defensive circle.
Her only answer was a low gurgling hiss, like the last breaths of a drowning man, echoing around them. Applebloom readied her six-shooters. “Show yerselves, ya sneakin’ pole-cats!”
Sweetie Belle moved into an arabesque, shouting into the darkness, “Yeah, what do do you want from us?”
All around them blue, frog-like creatures emerged from their hiding places, surrounding the party. The largest one held Darlynn captive in front of him, a razor-sharp claw pressed to her neck.
“Dang it, slaads!” said Zinnadiana, “I hate these guys! You okay, Darlynn?”
“I’m fine!” the elf shouted back, struggling against the creature’s grip, “And the proper plural is ‘slaadi’!”
“Quiet, puny meat-creatures!” the slaadi leader hissed.
“Oh, YOU be quiet!” Darlynn shouted, “How DARE you interrupt me in the middle of my exposition! And you’re kicking up my map as we speak!”
“Yes, yes, get angry....” said the creature, “It will make your flesh taste all the sweeter.” It licked its lips lasciviously. “You have no chance of escape. Your pathetic allies are all surrounded!”
The rogue smirked. “Oh, no. Not ALL of my allies.”
“Attackaru!” The shout came from high above them. A silhouetted figure leaped down from the edge of the canyon, thrusting the blade of a long-spear straight down as he fell. He landed with the point embedded through the slaadi leader’s skull, skewering it all the way through its body. Its muscles spasmed a few times, then went slack, still in a standing position. Darlynn freed herself from the creature’s loosening grip and drew her bow.
Applebloom whistled, impressed. “That’s a right proper frog-giggin’ there, partner!”
The mysterious new warrior was fully clad in eastern armor, and wore a helmet featuring a grotesque, snarling face-mask. He braced his foot against the slaad’s shoulder, drawing the spear from its body in a single, fluid motion. He joined the rest of the party, standing back-to-back with the rogue as they trained their weapons on the remaining monsters, who stood stunned at the sudden change in their fortune.
“Excellent timing, Kraggak.” she said to her new ally, “I knew it was a good idea to have you follow us in case of an ambush.”
The samurai removed his mask, exposing a rough, gray face that wasn’t much different from it. “Light, I forrow you,” he said, “Just rike in pran. When you in tlouble, I make super happy attackaru!”
Darlynn twisted her head around to stare at him for a second, before thinking better of it an refocusing on the slaadi threat in front of her. “I... yes, um, thank you.” she stuttered, “S... surely you have turned the tide of this battle.”
Kraggak smiled broadly around his stubby tusks, “Ugry flog-men no match for my kung-fu!”
“Yes...” Darlynn said, slowly and deliberately. She closed her eyes, lowering her bow momentarily to pinch the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger.
“You okay, Dalrynn-san?” he said, “You need me to ray hands?”
“I’m... fine.” the elf gritted her teeth, “Just getting a sudden migraine, is all.”
The remaining slaadi seethed at them with raw animal fury. “They killed our leader.” one of them shouted, “What do we do?”
“Idiot!” another, more level-headed slaad yelled at him, “They are still few, while we are many! Don’t let them escape!” The newly motivated group closed in around the adventurers.
Zinnadiana struck out at the one closest to her with her banj-axe. It ducked and weaved, her swings missing by inches. “Stay still, darn it!” she yelled. It lashed out at her face with its claw. She tried to parry the blow, but its claws punched through the drum skin, stopping inches from her face.
“Gah!” she yelped, tumbling backwards. She looked at her ruined instrument, “Aw, come on, I just got that one!” she whined. The slaad reared up to strike again, but stopped with a sudden jerk. It slumped over, one of Darlynn’s arrows protruding from its back.
“Nice save!” she said, shooting the elf a thumbs up.
“Perhaps next time you’ll bring a more durable weapon?” she said sardonically.
“Oh, sure, ruin all my fun.” Zinnadiana smirked.
Nearby, the young adventurers had one of the creatures cornered. “Ninja-punch! Ninja-kick!” said Scootaloo.
The slaad lashed out with its claws.
“Arrg, I’m hit!” said Scootaloo. She flipped over a panel on her figure to reveal Realistic Battle DamageTM, adding, “And I’m like, ‘You suck!’ Then they say, uh... they say...”
“Ohh, tag me, tag me!” said Sweetie Belle. They slapped hooves, swapping places. “Okay, so the frog guys are all like, ‘Graah! We’re gonna smash yer bones and eat the squishy stuff inside!’, but I’m like, ‘Nuh uh!’, and then... uh...” she faltered.
“I got it!” said Applebloom, tagging in.
Pinkie nudged Applejack in the side. “What do you think?” she whispered over Applebloom’s narration.
“Actually,” Applejack whispered back, “I’m a little freaked out at how well this is working.”
“...And the rest of ‘em run off like a buncha’ sissies!” Applebloom finished. The other girls applauded.
“Wooo! Go us!” said Scootaloo.
“We rule!” added Sweetie Belle.
“That actually wasn’t bad, for a first try.” Rarity admitted, “Although you should have made an Intimidation check before they ran away.”
“Nah,” Scootaloo dismissed her, “We don’t really have to do that stuff if we don’t wanna.”
Rarity’s eyes boggled. “But it’s in the rules!”
“Oh yeah? So’s this!” Scootaloo opened the DM’s guide, showing it to her, “See? House rules. If the DM wants to change something, they totally can!”
“That’s a pretty broad interpretation of...” Rarity started.
“...AND” Scootaloo continued, ignoring her, “Since we’re the DM, I say if something’s cool enough, we don’t have to roll any dice or anything.”
“Yeah!” said Applebloom, “If it’s awesome, it happens!”
“Not a bad rule, if you ask me.” said Pinkie.
Applejack rolled her eyes. “Completely game-breaking, but whatever.”
“Okay, what’s next?” said Sweetie Belle, “We need another monster.”
“Well, okay...” said Rarity, trying to maintain some form of control, “You can do another encounter if you want, but first let me show you how to calculate a challenge rating...”
“Don’t worry about it, sis,” said Sweetie Belle, “We got this.” They gathered into a huddle.
“Let’s do a dire pony!” said Scootaloo.
“What?” Applebloom turned up her nose at her, “No way, that’s too weird.”
“It’s not weird if they’re dire.” Scootaloo insisted.
“We’re not fighting ponies!” said Applebloom.
“How about an eyeball thing?” suggested Sweetie Belle.
“Ohh, I’ve always wanted to try one of those!” said Scootaloo.
“Perfect!” agreed Applebloom.
Applejack eyed them warily. “Should I be worried?” she asked.
“Nah,” said Pinkie, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Okay, now I really am worried.”
The ground shook underneath the party’s feet.
Kraggak bent over to look at the ground. He watched in puzzlement as a few pebbles began levitating into the air before his eyes. “Watashi-wha... !?”
“Look out!” shouted Zinnadiana. She barreled into him, knocking him out of the way just as a disintegration beam ripped through the floor where he was standing. A cloud of dust and debris filled the canyon, obscuring their vision.
“What is it?” asked Darlynn, shielding her eyes.
“Whatever it is, we can totally take it!” said Scootaloo.
“Yeah!” Applebloom rallied, “We’ll send ‘im runnin’ just like them no-good froggies!”
Zinnadiana squinted through the dust. She could just make out the a number of wriggling shapes rising out of the newly-created hole in the canyon floor. One-by-one, each appendage turned to face the party, a single eye blinking open at each of their tips. As the creature rose into the air they were joined by a massive central eye and a mouth full of dripping fangs.
“Oh no,” Zinnadiana said in a voice barely above a whisper, “We have to run.”
“What? No way!” said Sweetie Belle, moving into an aggressive relevé, “Running is what the monsters do when they find out how awesome we are.”
Zinnadiana dove again, knocking Sweetie Belle down just as a fiery blast slammed into the wall behind her. “Seriously, we need to run!” she said, “We can’t beat a beholder. We don’t have a spellcaster, I don’t have an instrument for my bard spells anymore, and Darlynn can’t flank it. We have to get out of here!”
“O... kay...” said Sweetie Belle, still staring at the scorched wall where she had been standing only seconds before.
“Nevel!” Kraggak shouted, “I mean, never! A gleat samurai does not act so cowardry!” The half-orc rose to his feet, standing defiantly before the beholder, and readied his spear. “Face me, monster, and I shall show you my tlue stlength!”
The beholder turned all of its eyes on the warrior before it. It snorted, then charged at him, snapping its terrible jaws. Kraggak rolled out of the way, thrusting his spear up into its side as he landed. The blade bounced off of the scaly hide harmlessly.
“You can’t hurt it, Kraggak!” Darlynn shouted, “Its defenses are too strong!” She positioned herself in front of the children, shielding them from any further attacks.
“Yes... I... can!” said the warrior, punctuating each of his words with a thrust of his spear, “Just... need... to... roll... a... TWENTY!” He dropped his spear, switching to pummeling the beast with his bare fists.
The beholder ceased its attacks, staring down at the half-orc in bewilderment. Kraggak was sweating now, his mind a blur as he rained blow after blow down on the creature’s body, each time failing to make even the slightest dent. He drew his fist back with a final scream of frustrated rage, aiming directly for the center eye...
Applejack’s chest heaved up and down. She looked down, noticing her hoof extended in front of her. Her brow furrowed in confusion. Looking up again, she saw the others staring at her, slack-jawed.
“You punched Billy Bunny!” said Sweetie Belle, agast.
“I... uh... I guess I...” said Applejack. She looked around, disoriented.
“It was your fault!” said Applebloom, coming to her sister’s defense, “You’re the one who wanted to use the stupid eyeball thing!”
“Hey, back off!” said Scootaloo, shoving her, “It’s not her fault your sister’s nuts!”
“You take that back!” said Applebloom, shoving her back.
“Stop fighting!” shrieked Sweetie Belle, inserting herself between them, “You can’t just start fighting in the middle of a battle!”
All three of them leaped at each other, rolling across the floor.
“Girls, stop it!” said Rarity, “Don’t you... ! You can’t... ! That’s very fragi...” She flinched as the angry ball of fillies knocked over an elderly bureau with a crash. She turned her attention to Pinkie and Applejack, her eyes burning.
The pair exchanged a nervous look. Before either of them knew what was happening they were landing in a heap outside the clubhouse. Rarity glared down at them from the doorway.
“I can’t BELIEVE you two!” she barked, “I ask you for help, and now look what’s happened!”
Over her shoulder, the fillies tumbled past. “Ow, Applebloom bit me!” Scootaloo yelped.
“Did not, you liar!” said Applebloom, an orange feather stuck to her lip.
Rarity slammed the door shut. After a short pause, it opened again, and Rarity stuck her head out.
“And your accent was atrocious!” She slammed the door again.
After a slight pause, Applejack spoke up. “Yeah, well, as if the goofy accent you’re always talkin’ with is so great...” she said, lamely.
A tense moment passed, and Applejack and Pinkie Pie picked themselves up. They walked in silence for a while, until the fields started to give way to the outskirts of Ponyville proper. Applejack broke the silence, sitting down with a huff. “It’d be nice,” she said, “It’d be really nice if we could have just ONE game that doesn’t end in a fistfight.”
Pinkie gave her a worried look. “You mean a hoof-fight, right?”
“Y... yeah.” said Applejack, blinking, “What did I say?”
Pinkie thought furiously. This was getting serious. She had to think of a way to keep Applejack’s mind off of games. After a sudden flash of insight, the answer was obvious.
“Hey, are you hungry? I’m hungry!” she said, “I think there’s a Crispy’s around here somewhere. My treat?”
She led the way to a little hut-like building on the edge of town. It was one of several slightly-upscale fast food joints that had been popping up all over town lately. The hut was just big enough for a kitchen, with a few picnic tables surrounding it acting as the ‘al fresco’ dining room. It was close to lunchtime, and a few families were there, eating and enjoying the brisk weather. She sat Applejack down at a free table.
“Just wait right here and I’ll go order for us.” she said, trotting off towards the little window in the side of the hut. A thought seemed to occur to her, and she spun back around quickly, “Don’t go anywhere, okay?”
“I’m not goin’ anywhere!” Applejack said tersely. Pinkie eyed her for another moment, then reluctantly turned back.
Applejack looked around grumpily. Above her, a yellow cartoon unicorn mascot grinned down at her from the restaurant’s billboard. She glared up at it, almost daring it to keep smiling, but it just kept offering her hay fries.
“Well, if it isn’t my old pony chum,” said a voice, “What is it that makes you look so glum?”
“Oh, hey Zecora.” said Applejack, noticing the zebra at the next table over for the first time. Feeling slightly silly, she tried to at least act neighborly. “What’s up? I never figured I’d see you at a place like this.”
“I know my presence may seem ironic.” Zecora said, “But I can’t resist a nice celery tonic.” She tipped her cup cheerfully in Applejack’s direction. “But never mind my choice of drink. What misfortune has left you in such a stink?”
Applejack heaved a self-pitying sigh. “Eh, I’m just havin’ the darnedest time findin’ a decent roleplaying group today.” she said morosely, “I’m sure you wouldn’t be interested.”
Zecora’s ears perked up. “Ah, now there you just might be surprised. I enjoyed such games greatly when I was pint-sized!”
For the first time since the fight at the clubhouse a smile sneaked across Applejack’s lips. “No kiddin’?” she said, “I never figured you for a gamer, either. Guess I’m learnin’ all sorts of stuff about you today.”
Zecora nodded. “It’s true, worlds of fantasy left me quite entranced. Though I haven’t played it since it was still called ‘Advanced’.”
“You know,” Applejack said slyly, “Me and Pinkie have been lookin’ for a decent DM. What do you say?” She raised her eyebrows suggestively.
The zebra paused, looking both flattered and thoughtful. “I had planned to dedicate this afternoon to my studies...” she said, tapping the table with her hoof, “But what the heck! How often do I get to play games with my buddies?”
“Awesome!” said Applejack, “Should I come by after lunch?”
“It would be my pleasure.” said Zecora, “Visit my home at your leisure!” She got up to leave, passing Pinkie Pie, who was balancing an enormous tray of food on her head.
“Hi Zecora! Bye Zecora!” she said, setting down the tray. “Okay, Applejack, I didn’t know what you wanted, so I got a little of everything. Except for the apple pies, I know you think they’re terrible. Trust me, this is just the thing you need to get your mind off of games.”
Applejack was barely listening to her. “You’re not gonna believe this,” she said, “But I was just talkin’ to Zecora over there. Turns out she’s an old-school gamer from way back. Whoda’ thought, huh? Anyway, she invited us over to her place for a few rounds.”
“W... what!?” Pinkie’s head whipped back and forth from Applejack to Zecora, off in the distance. Her left eye twitched slightly. Something deep within her snapped. “Oh for the love of- Seriously!? Are you serious!?” she shouted, “Is everypony in this town obsessed with Dungeons ans Dragons!?” The tables around them went silent. A mare with two small foals stared daggers at her. She coughed, regaining her composure. “I’m just asking! I’m shouting ‘cause it’s an interesting question!”
“I know, it’s great, isn’t it?” said Applejack, obliviously, “Pass the hay fries, I’m starvin’ over here!”
Act 3: Sweet Zecora’s Badasssss Song
At first glance, Zecora’s tree-hut seemed far different from the typical pony home, located as it was down a longish path through the Everfree forest and decorated with strange, often intimidating-looking art from her homeland. Standing in the kitchen, Pinkie Pie remembered how frightened she had been of the zebra when they first met. She chuckled quietly to herself; it all seemed so silly now. Once you became accustomed to the decor, Zecora’s home felt every bit as warm and welcoming anyone else’s. After all, she thought, how likely is it that an evil enchantress would have little knitted duckies on her potholders?
“Quest log, day... uh, seventeen!” she whispered to herself, turning her attention to more important matters, “Disaster! Somehow, in spite of my efforts to stop her, Applejack has gotten us into yet another game! Also, although I can’t be sure, I think her symptoms are getting worse. In the last game, she seemed to find herself floundering in the fickle figments of fantasy, resulting in a perplexing punch to a poor, powerless plush. In the interest of her own safety, I may need to resort to drastic measures.” She picked up a frying pan sitting on the kitchen counter and gave it a few experimental swings.
“N... nah,” she said eventually, setting the pan back on the counter, “I’d have a hard time explaining that to Zecora. Besides, things haven’t gotten that bad yet. I hope.”
A voice came from down the hall. “Are you finished getting your drink? You’ve been taking pretty long, I think.”
“I’m coming!” Pinkie said, heading back to the dining room, “I was, uh, super thirsty! Those hay fries sure were salty, huh?”
Applejack shrugged. “Nothin’ wrong with mine.” She was sitting at a round wooden table nestled in a small alcove in Zecora’s dining room. Pinkie decided it was her breakfast nook, although she wasn’t sure if the zebra would call it that. Zecora had retrieved several cardboard boxes from her attic, one of which Applejack was busily digging through. “Come over here an’ check out all of Zecora’s old gaming gear.” she said, “It’s totally vintage!”
She pulled out a well-worn manual, blowing the thick layer of dust off the cover and flipping though its yellowing pages. “Boy, I love these corny old illustrations. Oh, wow, are those pewter minis? All Spike’s got are the plastic ones.” She set the manual down reverently before investigating the new treasures. Each figure was meticulously hoof-painted, tiny works of art in their own right. “These things are so cool! Did you really paint all of ‘em yourself?”
Zecora nodded, blushing slightly at the implied compliment. “I’m glad that you think they aren’t too shoddy. In the old days, we considered it half of the hobby.”
Pinkie took a closer look at the little metal figures as she sat down. She picked up one that looked like a flying, upside-down plate of spaghetti with googly eyes. “Neat, a flumph!” she said, “I don’t think I know anyone else who has one of those.”
“Heck, I didn’t even know they made ‘em.” Applejack scratched her head, “Flumphs have never been exactly, you know, popular.”
“As monsters go, they’re far from the elite,” said Zecora, “But I have a liking for the strange and offbeat.”
Applejack grinned. “Guess that explains why you hang out with us, eh?”
Pinkie watched the two of them laugh, thinking carefully. Applejack seemed calm and friendly, a world apart from the sullen mess she had been earlier. She started to relax. Maybe things weren’t as bad as she thought. “So anyway, Zecora,” she said, “Whatcha you got planned for us?”
Zecora was grinning ear-to-ear as she set up the DM screen, unable to keep a little bit of schoolgirl enthusiasm from peeking out underneath her normally stoic demeanor. “I’ve been wracking my mind for an appropriate theme.” she said, “What would you say to a more unconventional scheme?”
“Whatever you want.” said Applejack, leaning back in her chair, “After the day I’ve had, I’m up for just about anything.”
“Well, I was thinking that our game could explore the swashbuckling sailors from days of yore.”
Pinkie leaned forward suddenly, accidentally knocking over a row of miniatures like dominoes. “You mean, like, pirates? Cool!” she said, practically vibrating in her seat, “I’m SO all about pirates!”
“Well, yeah,” said Applejack, “But it’s not like they’re anything new for you. You work ‘em into your games all the time.”
“Those are AIR pirates,” Pinkie said as if it were to most obvious thing in the world, “They’re totally different.”
“Sure, like night an’ day.” Applejack rolled her eyes, “But heck, I ain’t gonna complain. It’ll give me an excuse to use a race I’ve wanted to try.”
“Sweet!” said Pinkie, “Avast and shiver me timbers, ye scurvy landlubbers! Anchors aweigh and hoist the Jolly Rodger, yo ho!”
“Try an’ take it down a notch, will ya Pinkie?”
Now begins a rousing tale
Of windy shores and crashing sea
Where bonny bands of heroes sail
With merry hearts and jeux d’esprit
Stalwart allies meet in these
Our epic verse, inaugural
I’ll tell you of them, if you please
Excuse my dire doggerel
Along the coastline, by the bay
A nameless city-state we join
A tiny dot on tiny cay
Where idle sailors spend their coin
We hear a cheerful bardic song
Down by the dock’s marina
She earns her bread the whole day long
“What do you do when foes surround
And friends become much colder?
What do you do when solid ground
Begins to smoke and smoulder?
What do you do when you are bound
Between hard place and boulder?
What beauty is there to be found
In the eye of a beholder?”
Though with her talent and her wit
A skillful song she narrates
Her audience, she must admit,
Are a bunch of freaking cheapskates
“At this rate, I’ll go broke!” said she
“And get kicked out of my cabana
But I’ll earn my way adventurously
Or my name’s not Zinnadiana!”
With that our busking bard sets out
To find employment elsewhere
‘Til suddenly she hears the shout
Of a convenient pirate job-fair
“Come one, come all!” the voice proclaimed
“And come get volunteered!
Now is your chance to sail with famed
Captain Xavier Orangebeard!”
Orange by name, and likeness too
As his fiery locks attest
He wore a rapier, sharp and true
Flintlock pistols crossed his chest
Though elfin features seemed quite clear
He was secretly exotic
The gills he hid ‘neath pointed ear
Revealed him as aquatic
“I need recruits,” the elf explained
“Right now, or even sooner
Sound of body and well-trained
To man a pirate schooner
I need a group of scoundrels who
Will serve me at my pleasure
Fight at my side and I’ll give you
A modest share of treasure”
“A crew,” he said, “to help me try
To seek immortal fame
And with your toil, though you may die,
Bring glory to my name!”
“Come now, sailors! Are you not men?”
He said with much frustration
But for a glance e’r now and then
They ignored his protestation
“You there!” he said unto the bard
“Are you just here to sight-see?
Or the only one in this shipyard
Brave enough to join me?”
“To tell the truth,” she said, “I fear
Your offer’s less than spiffy
But since you’re the only PC here
I’ll be with you in a jiffy”
“Very well,” the captain quipped
“I guess it’s you and me, then
We’d best procure a proper ship
Before we find more seamen”
They searched the dock to buy a skiff
A clipper, sloop, or yacht
They found this difficult, what with
A budget less than squat
They came upon a lonely pier
Where one was left to crumble
And though the ship was somewhat queer
Its price, at least, was humble
They found the vessel’s current skipper
(Some sort of fish-man creature)
He offered them a friendly flipper
And told them “Pleased ta’ meet ’yer!”
“Cut the idle chit-chat, fishy!”
The pirate captain sneered
“Unless you want to end up squishy
Your ship’s been commandeered!”
“He doesn’t mean that as a threat!”
The bard said, acting chummy
“He’s just a little bit upset
About our lack of money”
“No worries, lassie,” said the trout
“I need ‘nae compensation
The ship be yours if ye clear out
Its zombie infestation”
The captain clapped and said, “All right!
At last, my stars align!
‘Cause I’ve been itching for a fight
And these mooks will do just fine!”
He grinned enthusiastically
And made an about-turn
He dove into the briny sea
And swam abaft the stern
He climbed up past the bulward
And rolled onto the deck
He drew his trusty short-sword
And resolved to give ‘em heck
Before him stood the glass-eyed dead
In shambling file and rank
The bard, appearing beside him, said
“You could have used the gangplank”
“Where’s the fun in that?” he said
With just a touch of scorn
“Come on now, let’s make these undead
Wish they were never un-born!”
He boldly charged into to the fray
And cut them apart like cheese blocks
The bard stood quietly, out of his way
While she prepared her squeeze-box
She worked the bellows hard and flipped
Aside a secret latch
A hail of arrows, poison tipped
Launched from its hidden hatch
The zombies failed to be rebuffed
Or even need assistance
She crossly rolled her eyes and huffed
“Stupid poison resistance!”
She grumbled as the nearest dead
Came toward her, arms outstretched
She put her palm against its head
To hold it back while she kvetched
“How come every instrument I bag
Ends up taking a floggin’?
Might as well make it a running gag”
As she smashed it on its noggin
Their foes were felled both left and right
No match for their aggression
But still their numbers, through the fight
Never seemed to lessen
Orangebeard couldn’t locate any
Source that fed the scare
He shouted “Just how bleedin’ many
Of these buggers are there?”
The fish-guy waved his fins about
To get the pair’s attention
“There’s somethin’ that could help ye out
That I forgot ta’ mention!”
“I think ye needs to stop the fight
Before it gets much worse
There’s ‘nae point in killing ‘em outright
‘Til ye removes the curse!”
“Curse?” said Pinkie, “What kind of curse?”
Zecora looked up from her screen, slightly annoyed that her flow was interrupted. “Please forgive me for pressing,” she said, “But which character are you addressing?”
“Huh? Oh, sorry.” said Pinkie, “I forgot to tell you, but we like to break character every now and then and talk about, uh, stuff. Discuss strategy, that sort of thing.”
“And argue over every little detail, if we’re bein’ honest.” added Applejack.
Zecora looked perplexed. “Wouldn’t that ruin immersion? No offence, that’s only my assertion.”
“You know, I never thought about it like that." said Applejack, scratching her chin, “I guess it does, but we’ve been doin’ it so long I kinda got used to it.”
“Yeah, so anyway,” said Pinkie, “Curse: what kind? I guess I’m asking the fish guy.”
Zecora shrugged, deciding to roll with it. “No matter how many zombies are subdued,” she explained, “Their numbers will be constantly renewed.”
“So, infinite zombies?” said Applejack, looking unimpressed, “That’s your idea of an encounter? A never-ending swarm of 1-hp minions? Seems more annoying than challenging.”
Zecora raised an eyebrow at her. “I know it’s not my place to chastise, but do you not know a puzzle when it’s before your eyes?”
“Ohhhh, I get it!” said Pinkie, her face lighting up, “So this is more of a thinkin’ fight, not a fightin’ fight.”
“A puzzle?” Applejack blanched, “Uh, okay, it’s just... Spike never really put any puzzles in his campaign. How does that even work in D&D?”
“It’s not that hard,” said Pinkie, “There’s no real set solution, you just have to think it out and adapt to the circumstances. It’s all about lateral thinking.”
“But Intelligence is my dump stat!” Applejack blurted out. She paused for a second as the two looked at her from across the table. “Orangebeard. Orangebeard’s dump stat.” She coughed, her cheeks going red.
“Uh, all right.” said Pinkie, cutting through the awkwardness, “I’ll take care of this one, okay? I think I have an idea.”
“How? It’s impossible!” said Applejack, “We don’t have a spellcaster to remove the curse, or even figure out where it’s comin’ from.”
“You’re thinking too narrowly,” said Pinkie, “You gotta try and come at the problem all sideways. Think about it: we have a whole bunch of zombies AND no crew. Why don’t we use one problem to solve the other?”
“Wait, you’re not seriously suggesting...”
“Oh, I’m suggesting it, all right!”
Zinnadiana tapped her chin
And analysed their plight
She came to a solution, then
That set her eyes alight
She said “I need to make a stop
So I’ll be right back, you guys!”
She headed to the butcher shop
To pick up some supplies
She toiled through the afternoon
With levers, cogs, and chutes
The others came to see her soon
And her long labor’s fruits
The zombie horde was in the hold
Bound to her automation
Their jerky movements thus controlled
A clockwork power station
Gray-matter organs hung above
Barely out of grasping hands
And each zombie’s clumsy shove
Advanced a treadmill’s turning bands
“You see?” the bard said cannily
Adjusting gears and chains
“There’s no challenge out there we
Can’t solve by using brains
I think that for a ship this special,
A new name’s overdue
And so I hereby dub this vessel
The Pinkitania II!”
They scrutinized the machine’s details
Admiring Zinnadiana’s work
‘Til an unexpected windy gale
Caused the ship to tip and jerk
They rocked under the bracing gust
That made their sailboat’s timbers flex
They left the zombies safely trussed
And scrambled back above the decks
A peal of thunder split the air
Letting out a mighty crack
A shadow stood out ‘mid the glare
Enter now, Grimstar the Black!
“Whoa, hold up there, Zecora.” said Applejack.
“We can’t use Grimstar,” said Pinkie, “Not without...” She was cut off by a knock at the door.
“Hello?” a voice echoed down the hall, “Zecora? It’s me, Twilight!”
Pinkie pulled a double take. Then a triple take. Then another double take, for good measure. She stared wide-eyed at Zecora. “Do that again!”
Zecora only smiled at her as she answered the door.
“Oh, good, you are home.” Twilight said. She entered the shack, her saddlebags bulging with books. Pinkie flagged her down from the table.
“Ohmigosh, Twilight!” she said, “You won’t believe this, but Zecora totally knew you were coming!”
“Of course she did,” Twilight said, raising an eyebrow at her, “We agreed to meet up tonight so she could help me work on my spell.”
“Now, wait a second,” Applejack said, eyeing Zecora suspiciously, “So you knew darn well when she was comin’ all along, but you still let us think... ?”
“Do you forget to whom you speak?” Zecora winked at her, “I like to maintain an air of mystique.”
“Yeah, no kiddin’.” Applejack chuckled.
Twilight set her stack of books down with a grunt. “What are you guys doing here, anyway?” she asked.
“We met out by the food courts.” Zecora explained, “Applejack was feeling out of sorts. It saddened me to see her pout, so I figured I would help her out.”
“Help her... how?" Twilight asked, suspicion beginning to creep into her voice.
“Well, obviously,” Applejack said, gesturing to the game table, “She’s DMing for us. I told her what lousy luck I’ve had with games today, and she...”
“Games?” Twilight said, “As in, plural?” She looked at Pinkie, who seemed like she was trying to say something but couldn’t think of the right words. Twilight kept an eye on her as she spoke to Applejack again. “Just how many games have you played today?”
“Welp,” Applejack tipped her hat, leaning back in her chair, “I guess this would be the third one. But the other two were sorta disasters, so they don’t really count. Today’s been kinda crazy.” She shrugged, smiling in a ‘what-are-you-gonna-do’ sort of way.
“I... see.” Twilight’s face remained carefully blank. “Pinkie, can I talk to you for a minute?”
Pinkie followed her into the kitchen, trying not to let the others see her guilty expression. When they were out of sight, Twilight turned on her.
“What the heck, Pinkie?” she hissed, “I thought you were keeping an eye on her! Did you even try to keep her away from games?”
“I did! I totally tried!” Pinkie’s eyes shifted, “But then I sort of... didn’t.”
“That’s not going to cut it.” said Twilight, “I trusted you Pinkie Pie! But three games? Three!?”
Pinkie hung her head, unable to meet her gaze. Twilight closed her eyes, trying to rein in her anger. “For the love of... Look, at least you can tell me how she’s been acting. What kind of character is she playing?”
“Um, I think she called Orangebeard an aquatic-elf swashbuckler.”
Twilight’s face fell. “Aquatic elf? You mean she’s been reading Unearthed Arcana? My God, it’s worse than I thought!”
“Oh, come on,” Pinkie forced herself to sound bright and peppy, “It can’t be that bad, can it?”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” Twilight pulled a notebook out of her bags and checked something. “We’ll compare her actions to the list of symptoms I’ve compiled. Now, has she had any violent outbursts?”
“Uh...” said Pinkie, remembering Big Macintosh.
Twilight clucked her tongue in irritation. “What about her state of mind? Has she been confusing fantasy and reality?”
“Um...” she said, remembering Billy Bunny.
“Pinkie!” Twilight groaned, “I need you to focus here!”
“I know, Twi-”
“Do you? Do you really?” Twilight paced a slow circle around Pinkie, glaring at her. “Because it seems to me like you’ve just been goofing off all day. This isn’t a game, Pinkie, this is important! Applejack could be in serious trouble here, do you understand that? Do you even care?”
Pinkie reacted as if she’d been slapped. She stared at her hooves, her lip trembling. “I... I care, Twilight. You know I do.” she sniffed, “I’m worried about her too.”
Twilight stopped pacing. “I didn’t... I didn’t mean to...” she stammered. She took a deep breath, gaining control over her temper. When she was calm again, she sat down next to Pinkie.
“I’m sorry, I know you care about her.” she sighed wearily, feeling the long nights of the past few weeks catching up to her. “It’s just been so hard watching what happened to Derpy. Feeling like she’s slipping away, like there’s nothing I can do to help her. I can’t handle seeing it happen to another one of my friends. I just... I just can’t.”
Pinkie sat next to Twilight for a moment. “I know it’s hard, Twilight.” she said, touching her gently on her shoulder, “But look... maybe playing is good for her. You know, to get it out of her system?”
Twilight looked at her skeptically, “What do you mean?”
“Well,” said Pinkie, “Derpy only went cra... I mean, she only had a problem after not playing for a few weeks. Maybe she was using the games to vent some frustration.”
“Hm.” Twilight thought it over. “That’s not the healthiest way to deal with anxiety, but it is a psychologically recognised response mechanism.”
“That’s exactly what I was thinking!” said Pinkie, gathering momentum, “So, maybe Applejack is under some stress, or something, and pretending to beat up trolls and stuff helps her deal with it. You know how sometimes you feel cruddy for one reason or another, but you bottle it up?” Pinkie mimed putting all of her troubles into a bottle, “But you don’t have any way to deal with it, so you just keep adding stuff to the bottle... ” she pretended her invisible bottle was getting bigger, “...and it’s just building and building and building until, one day, all of a sudden, BOOM!” She threw her hooves in the air. “And then Mr. and Mrs. Cake won’t let you use the pressure cooker anymore.”
Twilight blinked. “So, what does this have to do with Applejack?”
“What I mean is,” said Pinkie, “The first two games today didn’t, uh, didn’t end well.” Pinkie scratched her head nervously, “But maybe if we let her have a really good game and blow off all her stress, she’ll go back to normal.” She shrugged. “It’s worth a shot, right?”
Twilight paused, weighing her options. “It’s... risky.” she said, “But if we can’t keep her from playing at all, we might as well try it. At least I’ll be able to watch her this time and evaluate her responses. I’ll try to use some psycho-analytical techniques to get her to open up.”
“Yeah!” Pinkie nodded vigorously, “Get all up inside her noggin and root around a bit!”
Twilight decided to ignore that. “We’d better get back before she starts getting suspicious.”
Applejack was waiting for them when they returned to the table. “Well, it’s about time ya’ll showed up.” she said, “Hope you don’t mind, but we kept going a little bit while you were gone and a giant squid attacked our ship. You’re up next, Twi.”
“Ah, so you feel like you’re being attacked by a giant squid, do you?” said Twilight, getting out her notebook, “How does that make you feel?”
“...Slimy?” Applejack looked at her strangely, “Look, if we’re gonna role-play, let’s do it in character. You need to do some catchin’ up, anyway.”
Zinnadiana took the helm
And plotted out their routes
“So Grimstar,” she leaned in to tell‘m
“What brings you hereabouts?”
“I’m traveling across this land
To study magic’s various forms
I figured a ship could use me on hand
To help manipulate the storms”
“True, a storm wizard to escort
Let’s us pull all the stops out
Good thing that’s always been your forte
Or this might feel like a cop-out”
“Finish up your chat, you two!”
They heard their fearless captain say
“Unless you’ve something better to do
We’re under attack by a cliche!”
Tentacles thrashed across the deck
As Orangebeard engaged in combat
Zinny whistled, “How in the the heck
Could I have possibly missed that?”
“Bend your oars and break your backs!”
The captain shouted hoarsely
“We won’t let some stupid squid’s attacks
Throw our ship off-course, see?”
The captain’s sword flew fast and free
The squid returned his blows in kind
And though he focused on the fight
Something, somewhere, subtly
Didn’t feel exactly right
And nagged the back of his mind
“Did any of you feel that, too?”
He spoke with mounting dread
“Like tentacles are gripping you
But, like, inside your head?”
“I fear I don’t know what you mean”
The wizard told him, most astute
“We’ll figure it out once we’ve been seen
To dealing with this ugly brute”
“Don’t worry captain,” said the bard
“These things are stupid bleeders
“We won’t find the battle all that hard
With you here as our leader”
The squid then seemed to have a thought
And found it quite attractive
Wrapping him in a tentacle knot
It took the captain captive
“Release him now!” the wizard roared
“You churlish cephalopod!
Or I’ll show you the power stored
Within my lightning rod!”
Grimstar lifted up his staff
And fire glowed within his eyes
From up above, a golden shaft
Of lightning tore apart the skies
The creature held the captain fast
And knocked aside his sword
And as it caught the wizard’s blast
It threw him overboard
A sinking feeling filled him
As the sinking captain sunk
All the thoughts that he was thinking
Were getting harder to get thunk
Passing through the driftwood dregs
He slowly drifted, aimlessly
And saw the slimy things with legs
That crawled beneath the slimy sea
His eyes adjusted to the gloom
And saw his fast approaching doom
It seemed as though a giant fish
With tentacles along its side
And pores exuding with a squish
A caustic, rancid smelling slime
That coated its unearthly hide
It fixed him an accusing glare
With its rheumy eyes of three
Orangebeard couldn’t help but stare
At their unreal monstrosity
He found it odd
What twisted God
Arranged the thing’s eyes vertically?
He fought fruitlessly against the tide
His muscles feeling drained and weak
The creature swam along his side
And, though lacking lips, began to speak
“O, woe is thou, unwary traveler
Beneath the ocean depths, I reign
Entombed with I, the mind unraveller
Your battle lost, your allies slain
Although you’ve bested my familiar
Behold, the master rears his head
O, now feel your brain bewilder’d
Let your thoughts sleep with the dead
Every foe I’ve met has ended
Tethered to me, or lamented
Here among the sleeping dead”
Orangebeard kicked his legs and forced
His aching arms find purchase
His efforts changed his sinking course
And sent him towards the surface
“See the fool who tries to flee
Under my spell, already lost
Be still now, or I’ll let you see
My price, I levy when I’m crossed
It pains me more than it does thee
To levy such a potent cost”
A blast of hot, psionic pain
Rended Orangebeard’s mind ablaze
He tensed himself, and tried to gain
Some distance in between his crazed
Pursuer and his unguarded self
Taking shelter ‘neath a rocky shelf
He shivered, lonely with his fears
His heartbeat booming in his ears
A moment’s pause, a thought occurred
As he let his fears subside
Did the pounding sound he heard
Come from within, or from outside?
His hiding spot, after reflection
Was actually a giant fin
To which attached, upon inspection
A massive, sleeping terrapin
He thought back to the bard’s advice
And came to understand
He thought of all he’d sacrificed
And came up with a plan
He kicked against the scaly fin
Feeling the waking beast vibrate
He found an opening within
And prayed the thing would take his bait
“You think you’ve lost me, do you, knave?
I see you with my second sight
Even when hiding in that cave
Lit like a candle in the night
Don’t think that you’ve escaped your plight”
The creature charged at its opponent
Ferocious, vicious, homicidal
Orangebeard waited for his moment
And jabbed the turtle’s giant eyeball
He dodged the massive, snapping beak
Tossed by the churning violence
And with a final psychic shriek
At last, his mind found silence
Crawling up the turtle’s shell
Orangebeard could almost take no more
Emerging from his watery hell
Onto a puzzling, sandy shore
He looked around and gently swore
(The only way he could react)
It seems this giant turtle bore
A tropical island on its back
“I’ve seen my share of strangeness, true
But now I’ve seen it all” said he
Then something else came into view
That proved him wrong immediately
He thought the strange approaching shape
Was a mirage, or something zanier
As it got closer, his dry mouth gaped
It was the Pinkatania!
He recognised the beat-up craft
But it was altered rather oddly
It flew above him, held aloft
By the squid’s inflated body
Seeing a knotted rope descend
He grasped it, and was pulled aboard
By his familiar wizard friend
Who greeted him with warm accord
“We’ve really found you, thank the Gods!”
The wizard slapped his back with glee
“We were certain that the odds
Had you forever lost at sea
We thought the ocean need be scoured
To find a single, missing man
What luck that we have both encountered
The exact same traveling zaratan!”
The bard was there, across the deck
Shouting, “Come ‘ere, ya great big lug!”
She gave his cheek a gentle peck
And crushed him in a massive hug
Orangebeard shot the bard a smile
And said, “It’s good to see you, kid
I guess that was the last time I’ll
Underestimate a giant squid”
She released him from her tight embrace
And said, “You aren’t the only one!
We had to feed it what’s-his-face
That fishy guy, the poor old chum
It turned out that the lightning blast
Just drove the monster bonkers
When it destroyed our mainsail mast
I thought we’d all be goners!
We beat the squid eventually
After a long, hard battle
But then we found ourselves at sea
Without a sail or paddle
We might have been left stranded there
With no one else around but shrimp
But Grimstar summoned some hot air
To make this calamari blimp”
Orangebeard said, “I think we’re due
A time at port to rest up, some
I don’t know about the rest of you
But I could use a tot of rum!”
With that, our heroes did depart
Sailing ‘cross the clear blue sky
Perhaps one day they will embark
To lands unknown to you or I
What happens next, you’re asking me?
I can’t tell you with much certitude
For any tale of men at sea
Will always end: “To Be Continued...”
“That was certainly a glorious fight,” said Zecora, “But I think it’s time we call it a night.”
“Aw, really?” said Applejack, looking up from the table, “I was just gettin’ into it.”
Zecora nodded sagely. “In order to make a story that you’ll adore, it’s important that I leave you wanting more.” she said, “Besides, the sun will be going down soon. The path is dangerous enough at noon.”
“Oh yeah,” said Pinkie, glancing at the clock, “I really don’t want to get caught walking through the Everfree Forest at night.”
“Well...” Applejack said reluctantly, “That is true. I guess.”
“I think I’ll stay over with Zecora for the night.” said Twilight, “She still owes me some work on my spell. And, uh, Pinkie? You keep working on that... recipe... I asked you about earlier, okay? Make sure it’s, uh, shelf-stable?” She gave her friend a meaningful look and a wink.
“No problemundo!” Pinkie said, winking back, “I’ll add plenty of extra sugar, too! And some nutmeg!” She winked a few more times and made a stirring motion with her hooves.
“Huh?” said Twilight. She shook her head. “I mean, sure. You do that.”
“Thanks so much for playing with me, everyone.” Zecora said brightly as she packed away her things, “I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun!”
Applejack and Pinkie Pie excused themselves, happy to leave behind a cheerful zebra. They walked along the forest path, watching as the light from the setting sun turned golden around them. Pinkie stayed a few paces behind Applejack, keeping an eye on her.
“Soooo... what did you think?” she asked, “About Zecora’s game, I mean. Pretty cool, huh?”
Applejack paused a moment, thinking. “I’m not really sure.” she said eventually, “To be honest, the rhyming took a little gettin’ used to. Kinda made resolving the attack rolls awkward.”
“I liked that part!” said Pinkie, “Especially when she kept having to rhyme ‘THAC0’ with ’attack-o’.”
Applejack laughed. “You’re not wrong, there.” They walked silently for a moment as she thought about it some more.
“You know,” Pinkie said, “That was some quick thinking, the way you sicced that zaratan on the aboleth. I told you you could handle a little puzzle or two!”
“Heh, yeah, I guess so.” Applejack admitted, “And for your part, it was genius how you threw the fish-guy to the squid to buy some time. Sacrificing an NPC to save yourself? I’ll make a min-maxer outta’ you yet.” She chuckled, shaking her head. “You know, I have to admit that was a really great game. Lots of action, a couple a’ interesting monsters, cool aquatic setting...”
“Don’t forget when she split the party,” Pinkie added, “That was a pretty bold move. It’s a really hard thing for a DM to pull off, and she didn’t even flinch.”
Applejack nodded. “Yeah... all things considered, it was probably the best game I’ve played yet.”
Pinkie saw her opportunity and struck. “So, I guess you’re done playing for a while, huh?” she said casually, “I mean, anything we did now just wouldn’t compare, right?”
Applejack stopped walking. “Hmm...” she said, scratching her chin, “I guess you’ve got a point, there.” Over her shoulder, Pinkie pumped her hooves in the air. “I suppose I could at least stand waiting for Spike to finish his campaign now. We’d have a hard time finding a better DM than Zecora. She’s pretty much the best ever.”
“Is that so, little hayseed?”
Pinkie spun around. Behind them, just to the side of the trail, was a beaten-up wooden trailer that she was sure hadn’t been there a moment before. A figure stood silhouetted in the trailer’s door frame.
Applejack narrowed her eyes. “Hello, Trixie.” she said icily, “What are you doing out here in the woods?”
“Never mind about that.” Trixie said, tossing her hair haughtily, “I overheard you talking about the little game you’ve been playing. Best dungeon master ever, is that right? I highly doubt that.”
“Hey, uh, Applejack?” Pinkie said nervously, “We should probably get going...”
Applejack ignored her. “Since when are you into Dungeons and Dragons?” she asked Trixie.
“Oh, your little dragon-thing introduced me to it when I was staying in Canterlot a few months ago.” Trixie stepped out of the doorway and walked up to the pair with a practiced casual gait. “I mastered it immediately, of course.”
“Wait, you were playing with Spike?” said Applejack, “He never told us he had another group.”
“Didn’t he?” Trixie grinned, “Must have slipped his mind. He showed up in Canterlot after that ‘incident’ that was in all the papers, looking for whatever dregs he could scrape together to play with him. Pathetic, I know. I took pity on the poor thing, thought I would grace him with my presence.”
Applejack fumed. “That... little... sneak!” she said, stamping her hooves furiously, “All that talk about how it was too dangerous to play with Derpy around, and he goes off moonlightin’ on us!”
Trixie grinned again. “Appropriate choice of words, considering the guest of honor.”
“... Luna?” Applejack gasped, “All this time he said he needed to work on his campaign, and he’s been sneakin’ off to play with the princess?” Applejack paced back and forth, snorting. “How long has this been goin’ on? Is he still doing it?”
“Well, that I can’t tell you.” said Trixie, “I outgrew their little group a few weeks ago. Haven’t seen them since.”
Applejack stopped pacing. She looked Trixie in the eye, her lips curling into a grin. “They kicked you out, didn’t they?”
“No!” Trixie shouted, suddenly enraged, “Nobody kicks out the Great and Powerful Trixie! Trixie kicked THEM out!”
“Sure, sure.” Applejack smirked at her, “I bet they got sick a’ your crap and tossed you on your backside.”
“Oh, you do, do you?” Trixie stared her down, “Well, I’m surprised you even play a game like Dungeons and Dragons. I’d have thought it involved too much ‘fancy mathematics’ for a brainless little hick like you.”
“Why, you rotten...” Applejack started.
“Hahahaha!” Pinkie interjected, smiling desperately, “Boy, that Trixie is such a kidder! Come on, AJ, let’s get going and...”
“SHUT UP!” they both yelled at her in unison. She sat down, stunned.
Applejack marched up to Trixie until they were face-to-face. “So you think you’re better’n me, is that it?”
“I KNOW I’m better than you.” Trixie sneered, refusing to back down, “At everything in general and this game in particular.”
“Care to prove it?”
“Any time, any place!”
“What’s wrong with right here, right now?”
“Nothing! I’ve got everything we need in my trailer!”
Without another word, the two marched into Trixie’s trailer, slamming the door behind them. Pinkie was left alone outside. She sat in stunned silence. A cold breeze blew by, rustling the leaves around her. She stared down the path. The exit leading back to Ponyville was just visible over the next hill.
“It’s not fair.” she said, her voice almost a whisper. A heavy sigh escaped her lips. Briefly, she imagined herself climbing the stairs to her apartment above Sugarcube Corner, drawing a nice hot bubble bath, maybe having that slice of cake she’d been saving, before collapsing into her bed. She looked at the forest’s exit again.
The door to the trailer swung open and Applejack stuck her head out.
“Pinkie, are you comin’ in or not?” she said, then ducked back inside, leaving the door swinging open.
Pinkie glanced around nervously in the gradually fading light of the forest. She took a deep breath to steady herself, then climbed into the trailer, shutting the door behind her with a tiny click.
Act 4: Trixiedekaphobia