The Greatest Game
“LET’S START! LET’S START!” bounced Pinkie excitedly. Maybe this tea party was going to be fun after all. It was only five minutes ago when she came downstairs and discovered that her friends had found a fun new board game to play, and Pinkie Pie loved board games.
“Hold on just a moment Pinkie, can’t play something we know nothing about,” Twilight said while carefully opening the box. She glanced around the simplistic ivory board. “Hmm, I don’t see a manual here.”
Rarity spotted some muted letters as she began rubbing away at the lighter part of the case “It’s right here under this, ugh, nasty grime,” wiping gingerly she revealed the text concerning the rules. Twilight scooted over and read aloud:
A game for those who seek to find
A way to leave your world behind
You roll the dice to move your token, doubles gets another turn, first player to reach the end wins
Twilight scanned the board, “Tokens...does anypony see any-?”
“They’re in this little box with the dice Twilight,” said Fluttershy nosing open a little compartment, “Um, I’m afraid that there’s only four tokens in the box though.”
“No problem! We’ll just make teams!” Squabbling immediately broke out around the table concerning partners.
“Girls we are not arguing over this. The pony sitting to your right will be your partner to make it less complicated,” said Twilight with finality. Rarity looked at the pony to her right and sighed, “No offense Applejack, I just wanted to be Pinkie Pies partner, she’s amazing at these games you know,”
“Or maybe yer just plum terrible, ya did lose to her in tac-tac-toe like 100 times in a row,” said Applejack chuckling at Raritys frown “Don’t ya worry, I’m great at this stuff and this here shouldn’t be too complicated from tha looks of it.”
“I didn’t even get a partner you guys, but don’t you worry your little old heads about me!” said Pinkie Pie nonchalantly.
Twilight glanced around the table “Me and Dash, AJ and Rarity, Spike and Fluttershy…oh shoot, I’m sorry Pinkie, I goofed up,”
“It’s OK, I work better myself,” replied Pinkie, actually excited being the lone wolf; she would get to roll every time now.
“Complicated!? Applejack more like too easy,” retorted Dash looking at the Eagle token, “this is just rolling dice, no strategy to it if you ask me,” Everyone sent her a flat look and Applejack snorted. “Ya’fraid of losin’ Dash?”
Fluttershy sighed at the silly banter, she was okay at board games but didn’t want this one turning out like Ponopoly always did. She turned to Spike, “Alright then, grab the tokens out of here and put them on the board please.”
“Can do!” he said placing the tokens down. The four tokens flew from his hand and set themselves upright at their starting points.
“Cool! How’d you do that Spike?” asked Dash with wide eyes.
“It wasn’t me, the game did it. Maybe it’s a magic board game!”
The group ooo-ed at the idea and Twilight shook her head. “It’s probably just magnets or something, and before you ponies start arguing again I say that Pinkie should roll first since she’s playing without a partner.”
Everypony agreed and Pinkie grabbed the dice, shaking them wildly in her hooves and tossing them onto the game board.
“WHOO! A three! My lucky number!”
Pinkie reached over to push her token but it had already started sliding across the ivory path. Another round of oo-ing rose from the table while Twilight shook her head.
“My turn! My turn! I roll first Twi! You know alphabetical order and stuff,” said Dash impatiently. Before Twilight could respond Applejack sat up and pointed to the center of the board. “Wouldja look at THAT!”
The smooth dull rock sitting in the middle was glowing slightly; words were appearing inside the sphere, like text shimmering through a glass of water.
At night they fly, you'd better run
These winged things are not much fun
“It’s not nighttime and what does it mean about running?” Twilight looked out the window cautiously “I think it’s a clue or hint or something,”
“Um, does anypony else hear birds flapping?” questioned a wide eyed Fluttershy.
“LOOK AT THE STAIRS!” Spike yelped.
A huge flock of the ugliest bats ever flew downstairs and started flying frantically around the room squeaking and banging into the walls, bookshelves and themselves.
Applejack held her ground at the swarm and started barking out orders. “FLUTTERSHY, RAINBOW DASH OPEN THE WINDOWS!” Applejack ran over to the door, ducking her head and losing her hat in the process. Fluttershy frantically struggled with the latches. Dash had a more efficient idea kicking out window after window.
“Aaaagh, they’re in my MAAANE!” shrieked Rarity running for cover. Applejack gave a mighty kick to the door and forced it open; the bats started clearing out.
“DASH, FLUTTERSHY CORRAL ‘EM OUTTA HERE!” she shouted pulling her trusty lasso out over the din of beating wings, “I’ll wrassle some up too!” she said snagging a group of startled bats and hurling them out the front door. In a few minutes all the bats had left the building and it was quiet once more.
“Jeeeez Twilight! Ya gotta get yer attic checked once in a while! Havin’ a swarm of bats hangin ‘round ain’t healthy,” Applejack said wrapping up her rope. “Tarnation those things were big too. Why didn’t you use your magic to shoo ‘em away Twi?”
Twilight shook her head again and sighed “I’m trying to rationalize how they could have possibly gotten in here and how I could have missed them hanging around upstairs.” Twilight had a spell that detects living things around her that she occasionally used when searching for pests (and Spike if he tried shucking his chores). Faint purple light glowed as she checked the library again.
“Six ponies, one baby dragon and the tree, I’m not getting anything else.” Another, completely impossible, idea for where the bats came from sprung to mind but she kept it to herself.
“Five ponies darling, we’ve lost Pinkie Pie somewhere,” said Rarity absentmindedly as she magically brushed her mane with a comb.
“Right here Rarity!” Pinkie Pies head popped up out of the black chest like a silly jack-in-the-box “Sorry about ducking out there, but when I see bats a-coming I’m first a-running,” she jumped out and retook her place at the table. It was uncommon knowledge that Pinkie had a scary run-in with bats as a filly and couldn’t stand being around them.
“Alright since the bats are gone and we’re going around the table it’s MY turn now,” Dash said excitedly reaching for the dice. Twilight magically snatched them away from her hooves “Rainbow we’re a team remember, it’s OUR turn?”
“Ugh, fiiiiiine you can roll this turn, sorry,” Dash pouted and ruffled her wings. Twilight magically jumbled the dice together and dropped them on the board.
“Ooh a seven! We’ve taken the lead Rainbow Dash! High hoof!” Twilight threw her hoof in the air, which was returned a little more forcefully by Dash. The token slid quietly to the seventh spot and more text appeared in the green dome.
There is only fear in your mind
can you block it in a bind?
“Fear in your mind…” repeated Twilight rubbing her hoof. “These clues or hints or whatever aren’t making much sense...it’s your roll now Fluttershy.” Twilight looked up to see that all her friends except Pinkie had left the table and backed into a corner of the room, fearful looks on their faces. “Uh girls, what are you doing over there?”
Twilight felt something in her gut, and slowly turned around to see the biggest snake she had ever seen dropping from the ceiling before her. It’s mottled hide bouncing light around as it dropped to the floor rearing its huge brown head, bearing its fangs as it hissed and coiled at Twilight.
“I-is t-that a-a-a s-s-snaaa-” she stammered as it began turning towards her, wracked with sudden fear Twilight blacked out on the floor.
“Oh nonononono, you can’t fall asleep now Twilight!” tutted Pinkie worriedly, “the games not even CLOSE to over.” She grabbed her friends tail and pulled her over to the sink, narrowly avoiding the giant snakes strike.
Applejack shook herself out of her frightened stupor. “O-ok, c’mon Applejack, it’s jus’ like dealin’ with the hydra,” she pulled out her lasso again. “Yer goin down ugly!”
“I have an idea! I have an idea! Fluttershy follow me!” Spike hurriedly ran into the kitchen behind the snake with the meek Pegasus trailing close behind.
The snake struck again, this time for Applejack. She saw it coming and turning around delivered a powerful kick to the snakes face.
“SSSSSSSSSSRRRRAAAAH!” it recoiled sharply with a painful cry, and spat out a bloody tooth. Blinded by pain it thrashed its massive tail around and knocked a bucket of water out of Pinkies mouth.
“HEY WATCH IT!” she said in a peevish voice, picking the bucket up to refill it.
“Pinkie what are you DOING?! We’ve got waaaay bigger problems right now!” said a frustrated Dash, darting around the snakes snapping maw.
Spike returned from the kitchen doorway holding two large pot lids, “Alright Fluttershy pick me up and drop me on the snakes head got me?!”
“Ok I got you Spike,” said Fluttershy nervously “Lift up your arms so I can carry you,”
As Fluttershy lifted him into the air Applejack managed to snag her lasso on the snakes mouth wrapping it shut. It flicked its tongue out and struggled with the rope, twisting its head to break free when Spike landed on its head and slammed the two lids over the snakes eyes.
“Great tinkin’ Shpike! Shlip the rope ovfer th’ lidsh ‘nd git down from thar!” said Applejack struggling to speak with the rope clenched in her mouth, “Dash, kick dat thang outta here!”
While Rainbow Dash was struggling to kick the blinded serpent out the room, Pinkie was having trouble pulling the now filled bucket out the sink; with an extra heave she dumped it over the edge and onto her purple friend.
“AAAH! Pinkie what the- why’d you do that!?” said the now sopping wet unicorn.
“Duh! You fell asleep when the snakey came in the house Twilight you’ve gotta be awake.” Pinkie said turning her friend around to face the giant snake.
“Oh right,” her ears folded, she was light headed again seeing that giant serpent thrashing in the middle of the room and her legs felt like jelly. “What should I do? You know I’m petrified of snakes!”
“You should USE your magic Twilight Sparkle!” demanded Rarity running up to her, mane a disheveled mess once again, “Do something and rid us of this awful creature right now!”
As if listening for her name only the great beast stopped its struggling and turned towards the quieter part of the room, tongue flicking curiously in her direction.
“Rarity what in Equestria can you expect me to do about THAT thing?”
“I expect something quick and efficient from you to make that snake leave this building; you’ve always had a better grasp on magic than I!”
It had started slinking blindly towards the 3 ponies, again tasting the air. Applejack was unable to get a footing and got dragged alongside it. “TWILIGHT! IT’S AFTER YOU! DO SOMETHIN!”
Pinkie gasped and jumped up. “OOH OOH I KNOW! Twilight, can you make another you for the snake to chase? If it chases your other self you’ll be fine and it’ll leave us alone!”
“Like a copy? A doppelganger? Of me? I’ve never tried anything like that before,” The snake was dragging itself closer, ignoring the kicks Dash was delivering to its face.
“Okay, here goes nothing,” Twilight closed her eyes and magical light coated her body completely. It dulled and then a fuzzy sparkling outline of herself stepped forward and materialized, hazily standing before her.
“Okokokokok, Twilight go hide and make your copysparkle run out the door. Rainbow Dash get ready to kick off those metal lids,” Twilight ducked around the corner, her doppelganger soundlessly trotting behind her. “I’m ready Pinkie!”
“NOW!” shouted Pinkie and Dash swiftly double kicked the lids off the snakes giant face. The snake hissed at having its sight suddenly restored and looking around spotted Twilights doppelganger running at full gallop out the door. It quickly fell low to the floor and started pursing the figure and Rarity magically slammed the door shut as the last bit of its tail disappeared outside.
“That. Was. So. COOL!” Spike jumped up and shouted. “This is the coolest game ever!”
Pinkie jumped and gave him a high hoof “I know Spike did you see how everyone handled that snake it and when you covered its eyes and didn’t know what to do was the best and Applejack you kicked that thing right in its face it was sooo super duper awesome!”
“Well I’m through playing this,” Applejack said tersely rolling up her lasso, “everyone’s thinkin’ it I’m just sayin’ it, this games cursed!”
“Again with this curse nonsense,” Twilight facehoofed, ”We’ve been through this AJ, there’s a valid explanation for anything and a cursed board game is a stretch don’t you think?”
“Then where’d them bats come from?”
“My attic? They could have been roosting there for all I know.”
“The big ‘ol snake too? A 35ft thang that jus’ so happened to show up right after ya rolled them dice?”
“Maybe it showed up because of the bats?”
“C’mon Twi use that noggin of yers and apply some logic to what jus’ happened. The game even told us it was gonna happen!”
“I don’t apply logic to curses AJ,” said Twilight flatly. Although she saw where her friend was coming from her tendency to jump at supernatural scapegoats always irked the unicorn. “Besides, that clue was completely inspecific.”
Spike didn’t care much for the arguing going on; he looked at Fluttershy who was quivering at the table, drinking out of the only teacup that hadn’t somehow spilled in the ruckus. “Hey it’s our turn now, do you wanna roll?” he asked nicely.
Fluttershy shook her head no and took another quiet sip as she looked over at the arguing ponies. Dash had joined in the argument and Pinkie was helping Rarity with some tidying around.
“I’m rolling now,” The arguing drowned out anything Spike had to say, he looked over at Fluttershy who just shrugged her shoulders, “Here goes!” he said shaking the die.
“-and that’s why you don’t jump to needless conclusions Rainbow Dash, superstitions are easy excuses to problems with often sensible explana-”
“Help! HELP! Someone help!”
Spike had sunken into the floor and was disappearing rapidly, his head and arms the only thing visible. Fluttershy was grabbing hold of his hands, her wings furiously beating at the air. “HELP! Somepony grab his arm!”
The other ponies galloped across the room only to stop short, the floor around the baby dragon had become a goopy mess and the ponies couldn’t get near him. The table was slowly sinking too but Pinkie and AJ leapt across the muck easily. Dash flew over to Fluttershy and began pulling Spikes other arm.
“Fight it Spike, you can do it, pullllll!” Dash struggled with the baby dragons little hands; he kept slipping on their hooves, mouth disappearing under the gooey floor.
“Tie this rope to ‘im girls!” Applejack said tossing her lasso, she was getting a lot of use out of it today, “Tie his hand real good, okay, good job Flutters, now Pinkie, help me PULL!”
Spike budged a little, his nose reappearing above the floor. His green eyes were filled with fear and darting rapidly around the room.
The table began tilting like a capsizing ship causing the game board start to sliding down.
“Uh-oh!” Pinkie dropped the rope and jumped for it knocking Applejack off balance. Spike sunk deeper back into the mushy floor, they gave one final heave but it wasn’t enough. Spike vanished beneath the floor.
Pinkie fell off the table and onto the floor which was suddenly back to its harder consistency causing the board to open up, revealing the games fading message.
Beware the ground where you stand
the floor is quicker than sinking sand
“No. No. Spike. Where did you go? Spike? This isn’t funny Spike, come out!” Twilight galloped over to the door to the library basement and magically threw it open, nearly ripping it off its hinges.
“SPIKE ARE YOU DOWN HERE? Spiiiiiiiiike!” An empty basement greeted her silently, she looked up at the ceiling to see it was completely solid. She frantically galloped to the bottom of the room and cast her life detection spell. Six ponies and one tree was all that showed up. No baby dragon. Nowhere in the tree. Nowhere in sight. Spike was gone.
To be continued...
The Greatest Game II
Sobbing quietly rose from the room. Not just five minutes ago Fluttershy had her hooves wrapped around her young dragon friend sinking into the floor and now Spike was gone. The last thing she heard was her muffled name being cried out before he vanished.
The other ponies stood dumbly, seeing Spike getting sucked into the floorboards had shocked them all. Applejack was the first to break the silence after Twilight disappeared downstairs.
“Pinkie Pie? What in sam hill is wrong with you!? We coulda pulled him through if ya didn’t drop the rope.”
Pinkie blinked rapidly, “Because well, ya see, if the game fell into the gooey-ooey we could never finish it and find out who wins and also it was gonna be my turn again and I didn’t want to miss it really.”
“So you just LET Spike sink into the floor because you cared more about the game than your friend,” seethed Rainbow Dash getting right in Pinkies face.
“Uh-uh-uh, we were ALL helping him Rainbow Dash and I didn’t let him fall in there, he was getting pulled in by the muddy stuff and-”
“-and I think you need to get your priorities checked Pinkie Pie,” interjected Rarity, lowering her voice, “Spike has disappeared, and if any of you ponies could stop your bickering you’d realize our poor friend is crying her eyes out downstairs. Now we can’t always explain the things Pinkie Pie does but I believ-HELLOOO Twilight Sparkle, err, just how long have you been standing there?”
They turned to see their friend at the doorway, fur under her eyes damp with tears. “Long enough Rarity,” she said wiping her face.
“AJ I’m sorry that I didn’t listen to you. If I weren’t so, so analytical I could have seen that you were right this time and I was wrong and then this happened and now I can’t find...” she hiccuped and rubbed her eye again.
“Aw Sug come ‘ere,” Applejack grabbed her friend and gave her a strong hug. Fluttershy and the rest of her friends gathered around her and joined in, “we’re gonna fix this mess and get Spike back and erythin’ will be FINE.”
Twilight gave a small smile, “Thanks girls, I don’t know what I’d do without your support. Spikes been here with me since, since I met him in his little egg, he’s been my first frie-”
Thump Thump Thump Thump Thump Thump Thump
The ponies glanced toward the floor where the horrible game box sat, rhythmic drum beats coming from inside.
“First we gotta get rid of this darned game Twilight, magic me an axe,” Applejack trotted over to the box “so’s I can break it once and fer all!”
Twilight closed her eyes and focused, with a poof and a small flash of light a large iron mallet apparated and fell to the floor with a clunk.
“Close enough,” said Applejack gripping the handle in her hooves “Here goes nothin’!”
Applejack brought the mallet down as hard as she could and slammed it dead center onto the box. It hit with a resounding THUD and a flash of green light filled the room throwing Applejack backwards into her friends.
“Oof! Did ah gettit?” she said clumsily, eyes rolling in their sockets “Oh no way,”
They got up and looked over at the game case sitting intact right where Applejack slammed it, pieces of the broken mallet head littering the area around the box with scorch marks decorating the floor.
“Well if that didn’t work what will?” thought Dash aloud.
“I don’t know...let me think for a minute…there’s got to be something to connect this board with,” Twilight sat and rubbed her head going over facts she knew so far about the game, trying to organize them in her mind.
Pinkie Pie trotted over to the board and opened it back up, halting the soft drumbeats that permeated the air. “K, while we’re waiting I’m gonna roll my turn reeeeeaaaal quick!” she said hastily rolling the dice in her hooves.
Applejack was not gonna have this. “Firstly Pinks, it’s mine and Raritys turn, second, we’re all tryin’ to catch our breath here, and thirdly ah don’t feel like rollin’ right now and I’m pretty sure nopony else does either, so wait yer danged turn!”
Pinkies face fell for an instant, “Fine we’ll put the game on hold for a little bit,” Fluttershy gingerly took the dice from Pinkie and held it in her teeth.
“olll hold on t’ theesh,” she said and sat down giving her a look. Pinkie sighed, knowing was getting a lot of flak for seeming so indifferent to everything and winning felt like such a silly thing to think about, but it’s all she wanted to do after this tea party had started getting to be so much fun.
Peering into the box and counting up the spaces she saw she had twenty-four more to go. Her eyes rested on the boring blank inner flap of the box and she felt a little niggle of an idea about it.
“Rarity come over here a sec and bring your little wipey-rag with ya.”
“What is it darling? I’m a little preoccupied with fixing up these windows you know.”
“Just come over here pleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease-”
Rarity dropped what she was doing in a huff and trotted over “Yes Pinkie Pie what is it that needs my attention sooo badly?”
She pointed down to the box “I have a funny feeling about this flippy-flap, can you rub it with your little towel?”
Raritys little embroidered handkerchief flew into the sink, soaking itself, and began scrubbing the inner box flap clean. “Oh my,” she whispered after a few steady strokes. “I missed something…everypony come look at this! Pinkie found more instructions to the game!”
Do not begin unless you intend to finish,
the exciting consequences will remain,
until a player finishes and calls out the name of the game
“More like a warning,” snorted Rainbow Dash, shifting her wings, “I wish we’d found this sooner.”
“I’m scared again,” peeped Fluttershy.
“But you’re ALWAYS scared Flutters,” snapped Dash.
Pinkie looked less glum, “Now we have to play if we want the bats and snake to go away.”
Rarity sighed and turned to Applejack “All this rhyming nonsense is really starting to fray my nerves.”
Twilight, who’d been quietly lost in thought suddenly perked up “What did you just say?”
“…fray my nerves?”
“Nononono before that!” said Twilight breathlessly jumping over to her startled friend “You said rhyming nonsense,”
“Well yes dear I-”
“Eheh, um, Twilight what are you getting at?”
Rarity received a surprising hug from her purple friend “That’s it! I know where to go now! Rhyming messages, exotic wildlife, strange magical properties, cursed board game…I think we could find answers at Zecoras place!”
“Of course! Why didn’t we think of that sooner!” said Dash excitedly. Zecora, the zebra living on her own in the forest could very well have answers about this game considering her background.
“Um, isn’t the forest where you sent that giant snake?” asked Fluttershy thoughtfully.
Twilight stopped short for a moment as doubt and fear began creeping into her thoughts, but her mission to save Spike forced her head clear. “Yes, we’ll handle him in due time, I’ll be right back to get some things,” she said trotting upstairs with newfound courage. No snake no matter how big would stand between her goal to recover Spike.
The other ponies stood around waiting for their friend, Fluttershy was shaking at the idea of going into the Everfree forest even if it was with her friends.
Dash noticed and commenting said “Don’t you sweat it Flutters, I’ll be here to take care of any scary baddies that’ll get in our way!”
“OOH! Do you think Zecoras played this before? Oh I just bet shes a WHIZ at this game,” jumped in Pinkie excitedly.
“Ah really wish you’d take this situation a lil’ more serious Pinkie,” responded Applejack curtly.
Pinkie giggled “Whys that? There’s nothing serious about it!”
“Now ya listen here Pinks I dunno why yer actin so-
“OK everypony ready?” Twilight had hopped downstairs with her saddlebags on her back, binoculars slung around her neck and wearing her expedition helmet. “I’ve got almost everything I could possibly think of and no books this time. I don’t think we’ll need them now.”
“Twilight Sparkle not bringing a reference guide? This is quite the change of pace for you,” playfully jabbed Rarity.
“It’s completely necessary that I DON’T have my nose stuck in a book going through the woods. Besides, I don’t have any relevant reading material to take anyway so I’m really counting on Zecora helping us.”
Dash stopped flitting around and landed next to her friends “We should bring the game with us right?”
They all glanced at the face open case sitting innocently in the evening sunlight. Twilight shut her eyes and took a breath “I’ll carry it in my pack, Fluttershy you can toss the dice in the box and I’ll put it away.”
“Phew,” went the quiet little Pegasus, she felt awfully nervous holding the dice in her mouth and dropped them into the board. She was closing the flaps when she jumped away with a yelp
“I-It moved, the piece moved!”
Applejack gasped, “But it was mine and Raritys turn!”
“Jeeeeeez, are ANY of you ponys paying attention?” said Pinkie Pie rolling her eyes “Don’t you remember that Spike rolled a four? He got doubles and got another turn but he’s not here to roll again but he was on Fluttershys team so she HAD to roll for him and that means it’s still Fluttershys turn so now the games moving again.”
Twilight did not like the implications of that. The board game knew who was on who’s teams? Something new to consider, but she wasn’t waiting around for another monster to delay her this time.
“We’ll read the clue and we’re out of this house ASAP,” Twilight said opening the front door “What’s it say Pinkie?”
Pinkie turned the case towards her and read aloud:
The forest holds brush and pine
now the path holds vicious vine
“Alright! We’re off!” Twilight said magically shoving the box into her pack “Come on don’t dawdle, we’re not sticking around here,” and with that began running out the door, her friends following in full gallop. Dash was flying at full speed above Twilight with Fluttershy following close behind.
“Don’t be so worried Fluttershy ‘cuz Dash has got your back!” she said doing a loop-de-loop confidently. Her friends bravado forced a meek smile on Fluttershys face, but she was still clearly shaken by the foreboding message.
“Here’s the forest entrance. Daaaaaash, Fluttershyyyyy come down here and walk with us! We need to stick together!” called out Twilight waving her hoof.
The woods ahead of them were treacherous since nearly all the wildlife could harm a pony in some way. Although Fluttershy knew every creature in there it wasn’t much help when it was trying to eat you for lunch.
Twilight looked through her binoculars “Alright…I’ll lead the way to Zecoras so follow me in a single file line right in the middle of the path to make sure we’re furthest away from the treeline as possible. Just in case.”
They began their trek in higher spirits but started drifting into silence the deeper they delved into the forest. Rarity was noticing some new flora sprouting in the woods “Look at these adorable purple flowers blooming in the trees! They have the same azure quality as my mane, how pretty!” she gushed drifting off the path.
Applejack grabbed Raritys tail and pulled her in line “Eyes on the trail missy, I ain’t never seen them flowers before so look an’ don’t touch,”
“Well you do not have to be so rough Applejack. My hair and mane have been through a lot today,” pouted Rarity, magically curling her tail.
Applejack groaned “After all that’s happened ya think ya’d be a bit less worried on yerself ya know?”
Fluttershy shuddered, being in tune with animals and not seeing or hearing any about left her worried. She could swear she felt that something was following her, creeping in the bushes alongside her. Fluttershy attempted to concentrate on Pinkies tail wildly bouncing in front of her to keep her mind clear. She heard another rustle in the bushes next to her and turned to look when- SMACK
“Oof, um, why’d we stop? Did something…happen?” Fluttershy asked after smacking into Pinkies backside.
“It’s a big twisted hedge in the way,” scowled Dash as if it were the most obvious thing ever “I can fly right over this stupid bush,”
“But,” interjected Twilight impatiently “you aren’t going to because you don’t know what’s on the other side, we’re going to cut our way through.”
Twilight lifted the slash slung around her neck and pulled a short squared sword out of the sheath.
“Woa, where’d ya get that big ‘ol machete Twi?” asked Applejack eyeing the blade.
“Found it with the hat and binoculars in my library. Apparently it’s an excellent tool for cutting through thick foliage and this is my first time I get to use it,” replied Twilight levitating the knife, diligently making sure to aim for appropriately thin vines in the tangled wall by pulling them out with her magic.
She was just finishing up when the bushes came to life.
“AAGH!” screamed Rarity as a vine tripped her and started dragging her away. Each pony was grabbed by a separate vine except for Dash who was luckily in the air and dodged it.
Twilight was slicing away at the vine curling around her waist with the blade and was working on helping her friends. “They’re everywhere!” she cried slicing two more that had tried coiling around her legs.
“I’ve gotcha Applejack!” Dash said ripping apart the offending vine around her friends foreleg with her teeth “Help the other three!”
“Don’t worry about me Dashie I’m fine,” Pinkie said expertly jumping and dodging the vines. A pair of them had knotted each other in their frenetic attempts to grab the prancing pony.
SHHHHINK another vine was slashed apart by the heavy knife under Twilights control. “Hold still Rarity I’ve got you,” Twilight sent the blade spinning at the vine that held her friend. It cut through cleanly and the vine disappeared squealing into the woods.
“HEY my knife!” A vine had grabbed the tool and was snaking back into the woods with it.
“Rarity help me pull it back!” she said turning to her panicked friend. They focused their magic on the blade and pulled, in an odd tug-of-war of might and magic.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash were both pulling Fluttershy together, two vines had wrapped around her back legs and she was frantically beating her wings to pull away. “Help Help Help!” she pleaded as the vines tightened their grip on her.
“Don’t worry Fluttershy, me and Aj’s got you, we’ve got you, don’t worry- TWILIGHT HELP US CUT FLUTTERSHY LOOSE!” Dash yelled over to her friends.
A vine burst directly out of the ground on front of Fluttershy and smacked Applejack away, both Dash and Fluttershy were dragged to the tree line.
“I’ve got you Fluttershy, I’ve got you,” Dash grabbed her free hoof and also started pumping her wings “just don’t let go don’t let go don’t let go.”
Fluttershys eyes were shaking as she gripped her friend tight. “Dash, I-AAAAAAAHHH!”
Another vine popped up from the earth and lashed Dash in the snout, she turned to snatch at her friends hooves but it was too late. Fluttershy disappeared screaming into the Everfree forest, her yellow form fading away into the darkness.
“WE HAVE TO GO AFTER HER!” shouted Dash making a break for the woods.
“NO we can’t!” yelled Twilight as she wrestled the blade free and began cutting away at the big hedge “We can’t lose you too Dash we need to get out of here! It’s getting worse!”
Applejack pulled her friend away from the treeline and through the hedge wall, it was still trying to close in on them.
“But what about-”
“Dash we NEED to leave before we’re all taken away! I don’t want to know what happens if we lose this game!” pleaded Twilight “Zecoras place is just up ahead and WE HAVE TO MOVE!”
With her legs shaking Dash turned and plunged through the closing vine wall and followed her friends to the wooden house just up ahead. Dash held her head high but her spirits dragged behind. Her thoughts were a muddled mess but one rang through clear as a bell.
That zebra better have a way to get her friends back
To be continued...
The Greatest Game III
“There we go, good as new, even if it I am not yet through,” chuckled Zecora as she drove the last nail through her front door. While it certainly was a strong door she had recently discovered that its hinges were not. The local mailpony had brought it to her attention when she barreled through it one day delivering her a letter. It was only a monthly postmark from her mother living in Zebrica but her tendency to mark each one as urgent distressed her. She knew her mom wasn’t that old yet.
“Tomorrow I will get new hinges for my door, on a visit to the hardware store,” she mused putting away her hammer. Zecora sat herself by the fireplace sipping the tea she had been brewing, wrapping herself in a blanket. The wind outside was blowing the tree branches around in a peaceful rhythm. The warm savannahs of her childhood bubbled back to her as she drank from her cup. Flowing fields of green grass, tall stoic trees, the scent of distant storms on the balmy horizon…
She jolted back to her house coughing on her tea. “Who is there knocking outside? Such brash behavior I despise!”
“You are not welcome in my home, until you tell me from where you roam,” she said rushing for her door locks and tripping in the blanket, rolling to the middle of the room in a bundle.
The door having suffered previous distresses finally gave up its fight and the hinges snapped off completely. The culprits behind this heinous crime against her entryway fell forwards in a jumbled heap onto the floor in front of her. The dust they kicked up obscured most of them, but one of their faces landed right in front of hers on the carpet.
“Hehehe, helloooo Zecora!” said a frazzled looking purple unicorn.
“Twilight Sparkle, explain your actions! Your forced entry to my home is a known infraction,” demanded Zecora wiggling out of her blanket.
“Well you see, my friends and I were having some fun earlier with a tea party and we were playing a board game. This board game…we’re having some trouble finishing it and would like you to offer your opinion on it.”
Zecora frowned stepping over to her front door trying to nudge the heavy thing back into place. She stumbled a little when Twilight magically levitated and set it back in the entrance, fixing the hinges as well.
“So if it isn’t too much trouble could you please help us?” pleaded Twilight nervously.
After tapping the hinges to her front door and making a show of tugging it closed Zecora took a moment to glance at the small group of ponies sitting before her. They did look visibly distressed.
“So tell me Twilight of this game, what could I offer on a topic so tame?” she asked cautiously.
Applejack opened up one of Twilights saddlebags, pulling out a rectangular board game. Zecora gasped.
“Why have you never told me you owned this before? This is not something you buy in a store!”
“So you DO recognize this thing? Oh thank goodness I was scared I couldn’t get any input on it. Alright then I have some quest-“ Twilight stopped short. Zecora had jumped away to a far corner of her room excitedly digging through a pile of books and other things. She was practically skipping when she returned to Twilight holding an all too familiar brown case in her mouth.
“Tell me where you got that Zecora,” asked Twilight, obviously puzzled.
“They all come from the same place, the land that breeds the rest of my race,” she replied with a proud smile “Such a thing is quite rare you see. It’s quite a thrill to own a piece like Jumanji,”
The small group of ponies watched apprehensively as Zecora nosed open her copy of the game. Rarity rested her head on Pinkies bouncy hair so she could get a better look at it. There were dice and small lettering on the board, it looked not nearly as old and was more rigid and evenly aligned, paths not even crossing. There was no luminescent jewel in the middle either, just Jumanji etched into the center of the board. A short stack of cards sat next to it with some different colored blocks as tokens.
“If you do not know this tradition of mine, which surely I don’t doubt, is an ancient game of history, one that ends with a shout,” remarked Zecora as she tenderly rubbed a spot on the case.
“Look here Zecora, while you may see this as just a silly game we have come to discover that it is much much more,” chimed Rarity as Dash pulled away from the group. She watched as the blue Pegasus sat herself in the far corner of the room. “This game of yours is just a trite copy of the real thing,”
Zecora burst into throaty laughter “Ponies please, you make my sides hurt! This game is as active as dirt,”
“Is that right?” snorted Applejack pulling open the flaps of their own Jumanji “Look through here yerself and then ya can tell us it’s all a buncha hooey,”
Zecora studied the game her orange acquaintance had revealed before her. She studied it eagerly, marveling at the detail. It was possibly the best iteration of Jumanji she had ever seen. The board carried the fine scent of Sequoia and with the careful detail of the spaces and tokens her mother would weep at the craftsmanship and dedication. The only things missing were the stacks of clues that came with every game.
“This is may be the finest copy I’ve seen to date. Such a masterpiece is nearly impossible to replicate,” said Zecora in awe.
“I’m afraid that this is probably, no, definitely not a copy Zecora,” whispered Twilight, glancing over to Dash “We started playing and every turn caused some sort of unnatural event to come to life!”
“Like big –ol bats as bigger than birds!” said Applejack.
“Super huge gigantica long hissy snakes!” chirped Pinkie Pie.
“Absolutely dreadful pony eating foliage,” added Rarity.
“…and some sort of sinking goop as well,” finished Twilight softly.
Zecora looked down at the board game again. It was certainly a pristine copy even though it was dirty. She looked back up to Twilight and her friends; they almost looked sincere.
“Don’t make a fool of me, this game is myth! There is nothing about it I could help you with,” she replied indifferently.
There was a bang over in the corner as Rainbow Dash slammed her hooves against the windowsill.
“Applejack can you…go and talk to Dash for a minute?” requested Twilight politely “I’m going to explain some things to Zecora,”
Applejack nodded and cantered over to Dash. Very calmly, she sat herself down next to her friend.
“Hey there sug’ how ya holding up?” she asked delicately.
“Bad. Just bad Applejack,” muttered Dash looking away.
“I know, things been bad for everypony lately, but we can beat this ya hear? I reckon It’s not tha end o’ the world,”
“It kinda is, Fluttershy’s gone and Zecora JUST said she can’t help us. I’ve known Fluttershy for like, ever and stupid Twilight just let her get taken away,” grumbled Dash, leering at Twilight from across the room.
Applejack nudged her in the side “That ain’t very nice. Spike’s gone too ya remember?”
Rainbow Dash crossed her hooves and swore under her breath. Applejack pretended not to hear and patted Dash on the back.
“I know you and Fluttershy go a long ways back, and losing her is hard on all of us ya hear? We all tried to protect each other when them nasty vines started attackin’ it jus’ weren’t enough I’m afraid…I can tell Raritys really hurtin’ too, even though she’s tryin’ her best not to show it.”
Applejack rubbed her friends back. She knew Dash wasn’t one to cry or anything but she was definitely upset from what happened.
“Ya’ll know we’ll get ‘em back when we win right? Says so right on the box clear as day!” she offered.
“If,” corrected Dash morosely “If we win, you heard Twilight. This is a game that we could lose and if we seriously don’t win...then it’s over. Done. We don’t get them back Applejack. It’s only been four turns and we’ve lost two of us already.”
There was a loud crash from the far side of the room. Everyone looked over to see Pinkie Pie had bounced into a shelf of antique masks and knocked them to the floor. She poked her head out of the pile and grinned, wearing a big oversized laughing mask on her face.
“Just look at her AJ. She hasn’t been taking this game seriously since turn one,” she griped motioning to Pinkie, who was now doing a horrible job at cleaning up the mess she made.
“Pinks is always like this Dash, an’ right now, she’s gotta better attitude ‘bout it than you do,” Applejack replied sternly “You an’ me Dash, we gotta be strong for our friends. So chin up.”
Dash looked up at wearing a more determined face “Yeah, you’re right. I’m strong. I can do this. I’ll beat this stupid game and get our friends back in record time.”
“GIRLS! We’re going back to the library, let’s get there before nightfall!” piped up Twilight. She tilted her head slightly back; her expedition helmet kept slipping over her eyes.
“I’ve told you all I know, if these wild claims are true. I can only offer my best wishes; and hope the best for you,” said Zecora fearfully. She picked up the small stack of cards within her box and offered them to Twilight. “Take these with you for the rest of your plight; they will surely help ease your friends’ frights.”
“Thank you Zecora, you’ve actually been a great help now that I know more about the games history. With these clues giving us a heads up I think we’ll be better off too. Before I go I have just one more question,” Twilight pulled Jumanji back out of her saddlebags and set it down “Could you tell me what that is? Right there in the upper left corner?”
Zecora took a long hard look at the carved figure scowling on the case. “A figure of those that walked on just two, they roamed these lands long before me and you. Creatures lost to time, hairless and tan, remembered only by name :man.”
Twilight gulped, shoving the case back into her pack “So I assume if…he comes out of the game then I can expect him to be just as dangerous as any other thing so far.”
“In all copys of Jumanji this card is left out. It is simply unfair without a doubt,” Zecora looked directly at Twilight, voice filled with dread “It’s always a gamble to have a card dealt, but it’s game over for those who roll the Hunter Van Pelt,”
“Pinkie Pie could you please stop bouncing for one moment? Looking at you is making me tiiiiired,” begged Rarity as Pinkie continued to hop around them in a circle. They were huddled together outside waiting for Twilight to finish talking to Zecora. The sun had just slipped behind the mountains painting the sky a vivid orange and red, prompting Rarity to summon some light before the evening set in.
“Oh Rarity you don’t have to brighten the night because we can do it ourselves. A trick I learned is that all you have to do is shut your eyes-super tight and count to five or maybe three but I always count to seven just in case and when they’re shut you open them up and then you can see in the dark!”
Applejack rolled her eyes “Yeah Pinkie that’s some real keen advice and all but I’d like a lil’ light anyways. We’re not stumblin’ around the kitchen for midnight snacks out here.”
Pinkie Pie was just launching into a new tirade on the perfect late-night treats when Twilight stepped outside to join them.
“Thank goodness you’re finally here,” breathed Rarity in relief as the light faded from her horn “I swear when this awful situation is concluded I’ll be taking a weeks vacation from work.”
Everypony murmured in agreement, even Applejack giving a fierce nod to the head vowing to spend more time with her friends than in the fields.
“Alright Twilight, what DID we learn from Zecora then?” asked Dash impatiently “Don’t tell me we walked all the way out here for nothing.”
“According to her this game has thousands of years of history to it. The ancient trickster spirits of the her homeland created Jumanji as an eternal reminder to the world of the untamed wilds that existed before civilization,” repeated Twilight carefully trying to correctly piece together Zecoras rhyming speech, “It eventually exited her homeland but not before it passed out of knowledge, like what we saw with her copy tonight. Unfortunately for us there’s little she can do to actually help…aside from giving us the list of clues she had.”
Twilight passed around each of the small cards to her friends and lit her horn so they could read them. After a few tense seconds Rarity abruptly broke the silence.
“What in good heavens is a ‘river horse’? How does a pony exactly ‘skirt around one’ as well…Pinkie what did the one you get talk about?”
“Mine says something about ‘smiling guests from the Nile!’ I don’t know where that is but it sounds super neat to have something happy happen! What’s yours say Dash?”
“It’s just about being bitten and getting itchy,” complained Dash “It doesn’t mean anything to me, what about you AJ?”
“Shoot this one ‘ere sounds like it’s talking ‘bout a stampede. Stayin’ put is always a ‘blunder’ no matter what kinda stampede. I could handle this ‘un no sweat,” she said proudly thinking back to her town award “What’s yours say Twi?”
Twilight sighed and dropped the card to the floor, everypony gathered around to look at the clue Twilight received:
“Now that there’s a card I’d hold on to,” chuckled Applejack with the rest of the group “What do we do next Twi?”
“Keep playing until we win at all costs of course!” said Dash confidently tugging the game out of her pack “Who’s turn is in anyways?”
“Our turn Rainbow Dash,” answered Rarity sidling over to Applejack “You can roll first if you want Applejack. Like you said I’m ‘plum terrible’ at these board games.”
Applejack looked around cautiously; they had stopped in the middle of the trail on the walk home. The twisted hedge was a few hundred yards ahead and the woods around them still rustled with the sounds of marauding plant life.
“Jus’ like before girls, we’ll roll a turn, pack up the game and run like a bat outta-“
“Run? That’s your plan? Running isn’t a plan Applejack running is what you do when a plan FAILS,” criticized Dash “AJ you’re not even trying to think here.”
“Yer not tryin’ to think of somethin’ yerself missy so if I were you-”
Twilight jumped between the two ponies “Will you two give it a rest!? Applejacks idea is pretty sound considering that I can’t safely teleport all five of us back to my library. Sweet Apple Acres is pretty close to here, we should run there and hold out in her barn,”
“Sounds good to me!” said Pinkie happily, bouncing in the air “Maybe we can stop over to Sugarcube Corner and pick up some snacks for tonight. I made miniature cupcakes that you can eat just like popcorn but I had trouble making the wrappers and then I thought ‘HEY! maybe I don’t need wrappers if they’re so super tiny’ because sometimes I even eat THOSE without realizing it and then you don’t even want to hear about when I go to the-”
“NO! PINKIE!” interrupted Rarity as Applejack started shaking the dice “Nopony, especially I, would want to hear about THAT. So let’s get ready to dart out of here while we prepare for the worst.”
With a clack the two dice fell to the game board causing the token to slide forward seven spaces. The luminescent jewel glowed to life as the new message revealed itself:
They march and eat, march and eat
An entire army beneath your feet
Immediately before they could react the brush around them exploded as all matter of woodland creatures burst from the treeline and scattered past them.
“Eww gross gross gross!” shrieked Rarity, an opossum brushing past her legs “What is going on here?”
“Beats me Rarity,” said Twilight as small family of squirrels scooted past her “It said something about an army right? Like an army of what?”
“Twi, shine your horn a lil’ brighter for us will ya?” asked Applejack squinting into the woods. She heard an odd rustling and didn’t like it one bit. It chilled her.
Pouring out of the woods were thousands, millions of black bugs of some kind. Tiny jaws gnashing at the air as they spilled en masse on to the pathway. A squirrel jumping out of a tree fell short and landed in their way, instantly covered in the swarm of black insects and in two seconds was picked clean to the bone.
“EVERYPONY OFF THA GROUND NOW!” shouted Applejack looping her lasso around a large overhanging branch. She was hoisting herself up when Rarity jumped and grabbed her round the waist.
“A…little…too…tightly…there…Rarity,” squeaked Applejack as the petrified unicorn desperately clutched her belly.
“Nopony wants to fall into that Applejack and that is my completely valid justification so suck it up and don’t you dare let me go!” she replied tightening her grip. Rarity watched Rainbow Dash lifting Twilight up in the air by her tail, causing her expedition hat to fall off “If you’re holding Twilight…and I’m over here where is…”
“PINKIE!” they yelled looking around frantically. The ants below them continued their march tearing apart everything in their path. There was no pink pony anywhere in sight.
“Up here silly heads!” said Pinkie Pie stretching her neck past the branch. Applejack was so shocked she nearly let go the rope in her mouth.
“PINKIE PIE! Don’t ya scare us like that again! Ah was worried sick about ya right there,” scolded Applejack. She would have asked how she got up there so quick in the first place but she knew better to ask Pinkie questions that were impossible to answer.
They remained there wordlessly as the black mass of pests dwindled into smaller and smaller streams until by Raritys declaration she could see no more chittering insects rustling out the woods.
“Woweee! Did you see all those buggies on the ground there musta been like a whole million billion zillion ka-JILLION of those things crawling on the ground right there!” said Pinkie hopping down next to Applejack. She watched as the orange pony removed her hat momentarily, gasping for air as she stuffed her lasso back inside.
“Nine-hundred thousand,” said Rarity automatically, the other ponies looked at her in bewilderment “…I think.”
Dash opened her mouth to speak, unceremoniously dropping Twilight to the floor “So what do we do about all those bugs? They’re gonna steamroll the whole town if we don’t stop ‘em!”
“Lucky they weren’t heading to Ponyville,” said Rarity now brushing her mane “Unless they change course but that’s thinking pessimistic and I’m hoping for the best from this point on,”
Twilight put her helmet back on, struggling with it as her horn got caught on the lip “Where were they headed then Rarity?”
“Considering where we are, the speed they were going, how many of them there were and the direction they’re headed,” she paled, stopping mid-brush “they should be entering Sweet Apple Acres in twenty minutes,”
“TWEN-TWENTY! Jus’ twenty minutes!?” yelled Applejack in alarm. She reared back and took off towards her farm “Imma comin’ for ya’ll don’t ya worry!”
“Applejack come back! We need to stick together!” called out Twilight.
“You’re gonna hurt yourself AJ wait up!” yelled Dash speeding after her.
“Dearie what about us!? You can’t leave us here!” shouted Rarity.
“ELEVEN!” screamed Pinkie Pie doing a double back flip.
Rarity halted in her tracks. Twilight slammed a hoof against her saddlebags feeling the emptiness inside.
“Pinkie Piiiiiiiiie, tell me you didn’t just do what I think you did,” said Twilight in a poor attempt at hiding the anger in her voice.
“I’m rolling again because it’s my turn and guess which pony just took the lead too late it’s PINKIE PIE oh yeeeaaah!” she said victoriously pumping her hooves in the air.
Rarity grabbed her friend close “We are not even close to being ready yet and after all those atrocious murderous bugs you just roll the dice again anyway?!”
Pinkie stared at her vacantly and nodded “You betcha, the sooner I win the better for everyone else!”
Twilight took a deep breath and counted to ten. Zecora and the game did promise a return to normality upon completion. Running through it at breakneck speed? Was that actually a good tactic or a bad one? She had no time to dwell on it further as the newest clue bubbled forth within the jade globe:
They cackle and laugh, but aren’t your friend
Keep your wits or meet a bitter end
“OOOH OOOOH I know exactly what this clue is!” shrieked Pinkie Pie excitedly.
Twilight did a double-take “Really Pinkie? What’s coming out the game?!”
“Isn’t it obvious? It’s-,” she paused, striking an overtly dramatic pose “INSULT COMICS!”
The two unicorns threw a hoof to their foreheads while Pinkie rolled on the ground in stitches at her great joke.
“Twilight we are not making good time here. Do you think you can cast your fancy teleportation spell and help us cover some ground?” requested Rarity politely.
“That one’s pretty tricky Rarity. I haven’t done it in a while and three ponies at the same time to the same place is going to be difficult,” responded Twilight pawing at the ground.
“Are you willing to risk your hair and mane?”
“My hair!?” she looked like she had just been slapped in the face “Yes I suppose if we win then it won’t really matter what happens to my wonderful visage in the interim. Let’s go for it!”
Twilight shut her eyes and recited the spell in her head. After a few seconds she opened them back up.
“Pinkie could you please stop laughing for a minute? I am trying to do something here.”
“I’m not laughing anymore,” said Pinkie cheerfully “I thought it was Rarity laughing for a minute there!”
“I can assure you both I did not utter a single chuckle,” she said flatly.
All three ponies remained quiet as they swiveled their heads around. Faint cackling could be heard all around them. Rarity summoned light from her horn and cast it about the darkness. Three pairs of glowing yellow eyes lit up in the brush around them.
“Twiliiiight, get us out of heeeere,” peeped Rarity, edging closer to her friend. The creatures around them sauntered into the clearing cackling and chuckling. Their fur was a mottled spotty mix of black and grey making them difficult to see against the darkness. Rarity noted their powerful necks leading to their huge toothy maws. These creatures existed to rip and tear and perhaps nothing else.
“Are we going somewhere girls?” asked Pinkie Pie blankly as Rarity dragged her towards them.
“Yes Pinkie we’re getting out of here now I’m pretty sure we need to be as close to each other as possible,” said Rarity as Twilight focused on the spell. The animals were drawing nearer, almost lazily as they gnashed their teeth and snickered maniacally. Obviously unaware of just what kind of unicorn they were dealing with Rarity allowed a slight smile.
“Bye-bye!” she said as the largest turned to pounce at her and suddenly vanished in a flash of light as she felt herself sucked away into nothingness. Pinkie was whooping noisily next to her as the spell transported them to their destination. She tried calling to Pinkie, but her voice was distant in the odd howling wormhole that her lavender friend had cast for them. Almost immediately the unusual ride was over and they blinked back into the real world.
“Hahahaaaaaaaa! Rarity you look like you’ve just been to a barbecue. Or maybe you WERE the barbecue!” snorted Pinkie Pie giving Raritys mane a playful tug.
“I am so so so SOOOOOO sorry about that Rarity,” said Twilight sincerely as the speechless unicorn tenderly ran a hoof through her now charred curls and coat. Twilights own hair had come out blackened as well. Pinkie Pie had in some impossible fashion exited the spell completely unscathed.
Rarity stood there shaking a bit. She was trying her best not to scream as the smell of her own burnt hair filled her nostrils. With restraint in her voice she very calmly spoke. “It is o-kay Twilight. I am currently…not being eaten and everything is fine,”
Twilight wiped the sweat off her brow in relief, it was time to get her bearings “Alright, sorry again…where are we?
“Applejack slow down you’re hard to keep up with!” yelled Dash as she tried keeping pace with her friend. Applejack was running at breakneck speed. Faster even than during the Running of the Leaves.
“No time to talk hun,” belted Applejack not even looking at the blue mare “My kin don’t know what’s comin’ an’ I gotta be there for ‘em. I ain’t having them die on me magicky game rules or not!”
Sweet Apple Acres was just up ahead now. Applejack had made exceptionally good time seeing she didn’t wait around for her three friends. She assumed they were following her in a slower gallop. Having good faith that Twilight wouldn’t stick around the forest was enough reasoning for her.
“Dash! Git in the barn and let the cattle and pigs loose! Tell ‘em to head for Whitetail Woods on the other side of town,” commanded Applejack as she bolted through her front door.
“GRANNY SMITH! BIG MACINTOSH! APPLEBLOOM! All ya’ll wake up and git yer behinds movin’ ‘cause we gotta go!” she hollered running upstairs hitting each bedroom door as she did. She was banging on her brothers door wondering why the other two hadn’t woken up yet when…
Applejack gasped “Sorry big bro,” she apologized as Big Macintosh rubbed his nose “Jus’ that it’s reeeaaal important ya move yer tuckus out this door now and rouse the other two while we go!”
“AJ they ain’t home,” said Macintosh with a yawn “Her teacher Cherrilee took Bloomy and her class upstate fer that camping trip ‘member? Heck sis you even talked to her ‘bout Granny bein’ group mentor.”
Applejack threw a hoof to her head. Of course they were on the school trip. How could she have forgotten?
“Do ya hear that? Someones makin’ off with our livestock!” he said in disbelief as he shoved past her to peer out the window. He threw on his harness and dashed downstairs.
“Macintosh I let them cattle out,” said Applejack “Now quit yer yappin’ and follow me outside,”
“Sis you’d better explain yerself. That’s part of our livelihood yer sendin’ out in the dead o’ night,” demanded Big Macintosh as he followed her outside.
“Ya wanna hear the short story or the long one?”
“Will I be gettin’ back to bed anytime soon?”
“Spin me the longer yarn,”
“Me and my friends got ourselves mixed up in some accursed board game tha’s out to kill us if we don’ keep our heads clear an’ the only way to play is to win so’s we keep playin’ and all sorts of horrible monsters been comin’ out and right now there’s a heapin’ herd of bugs comin’ to the farm an’ they’re set to tear us to pieces so here I am to make sure that don’t happen ya got all that?,”
Big Macintosh frowned, squinting at her little sister “AJ tell me ya hadn’t been at the watering hole downin’ Honey Oaks again,”
“Dagnabbit Macintosh,” she cried “I am not drunk. Ya know I’m the most honest pony ‘round these parts.”
The two Apple family members turned their head to the shouting and saw her friends running over to greet them. She breathed a sigh of relief.
“Thank goodness ya’ll are okay,” she said, her smile dropped a little as she got a better look at the two unicorns “Mostly okay…what in tarnation happened to you two? Ya’ll catch fire or somethin’ Rarity?”
“Only a little,” she replied brazenly, glancing at Twilight “Where is Rainbow Dash?”
“Above you,” said Dash coasting to a stop on the ground next to them “The bugs are here,”
They flinched at the bad news. Big Macintosh didn’t look that fazed though.
“Alright I’ll go an’ get the bug juice,” he said casually making for the barn.
“All the pesticide in the world couldn’t stop these insects Big Macintosh, we just need move out their way,” said Twilight moving in front of the red stallion “We should be leaving right Dash?”
Rainbow Dash rushed back upwards and scanned the area “Aaaactually, it looks like they aren’t coming over here at all. We’ll be safe Applejack,”
“Ya mean they’re leavin’ us be?” she said hopefully “That’s a relief,”
The blue Pegasus glided back to the ground “Not exactly,”
None of the ponies had to strain their ears to hear the sound of crunching and munching coming from within the orchards.
“Oh sweet mother of mercy they’re gonna eat all our crop!” said Applejack in panic “Shoot…well, at least they ain’t munchin’ on us-”
“INSULT COMICS!” yelled Pinkie Pie pointing to the woods.
Dash looked at her quizzically but before she could say anything Rarity had yanked her out of the sky.
“INTO THE BARN EVERYPONY LET’S GO!” yelled Twilight as she hectically shoved Applejack and her brother into the red building. She magically shut the door and locked it as something slammed itself against the wooden entryway.
“Whas’ goin’ on? What did Pinkie Pie see?” Applejack asked, her voice filled with agitation. Twilight was climbing the ladder up to the barn rafters.
“Pinkie took her turn and some predators came out. Zecora described them for me back in her home,” responded Twilight “They’re called ‘hyena’ and they are very dangerous animals.”
The barn door creaked as the hyena outside continued their onslaught. Tools and other assorted farm equipment fell to the dirt as the wall heaved from the abuse. It was not going to hold much longer. Rarity scurried up the ladder as fast as she could.
Applejack was just climbing up when the barn door splintered and the pack of hyena burst through.
“I’ll hold ‘em off AJ get to safety,” Macintosh said gruffly, digging his hooves into the ground.
“Macintosh git up here NOW!” ordered Applejack as she scrambled up to the rafters.
The larger hyena leapt at him and Big Mac deftly stepped aside. He kicked it fiercely with his powerful hind legs sending the hyena careening into the wall. The other assaulted Macs sides slashing at him with black talons. With a grunt he ducked underneath it and tossed it into through the cattle pen. The gate cracked in two as the dazed hyena rolled back out snarling and yipping as it limped away. The third hyena had been pacing impatiently back and forth during the attack and leapt for Macs throat. It clamped its jaws around his harness, unable to get at his neck. He shook it off. Out the corner of his eyes he spotted the other lunging and caught it in mid-air with a fierce headbutt.
“We gotta help ‘im! They’re gonna tear him to pieces!” cried Applejack. Big Macintoshs coat obscured his cuts but the reddening floor revealed his wounds.
Dash cringed at the pain in Applejacks voice. Seeing her friends’ brother fighting for their lives was maddening. She had to intervene somehow. Anything to give the red stallion an advantage. Or maybe there was another way. Carefully sliding the case out of Twilights pack she opened it up and did some quick counting.
“Applejack no!” cried Twilight as the orange pony jumped down knocking aside a hyena. It was thrown against the far wall, apparently stunned, but it began rolling to its feet. With startling accuracy Applejack had it hogtied. Big Mac had grabbed the other by the tail with his mouth and swung it against the already bound beast writhing on the floor. They rolled backwards into a shelf of buckets that noisily clanged on their heads.
“YEEEEOW!” roared Macintosh wheeling backwards. The third hyena had leapt onto Macintosh and was digging its jaws into the back of his upper neck.
Applejack leapt up and knocked the hyena off as it ripped a tuft of her brothers orange mane away in its jaws. It rolled, landing upright on its paws spitting and gagging on the hair. Applejack took a stand in front of her big brother. His breathing was becoming more and more labored. She glared at the snarling hyena as she prepared to fight for her life.
They were interrupted. The most peculiar thing raced through the wide open barn door. It was a wispy shimmering purple outline of a pony, hooves floating just above the ground. Applejack, her brother, the rest of the ponies and even the hyena watched in confusion as the ghostly figure exited past them. Twilight was the first to recall what this meant.
“You should get up here AJ!” she rushed, Applejack did a quick 180 and leapt for the ladder while Twilight levitated her brother out of the hyenas reach There was a smash as the barn door exploded into timbers as the massive green serpent from earlier slithered through after Twilights ghostly double. It’s frantic coiling swallowed up the three hyena still on the ground and they yipped helplessly as the serpent dragged them out the other end of the barn.
“Macintosh! How bad are ya hurt!? Tell us where they got at ya!” demanded Applejack studying his hide. She ignored the snapping of wood and timber as Twilight magically closed up the barns gaping holes. Rarity leaned over and cast some healing magic on the shallower cuts and scrapes from the fight.
“Your brother is going to need to see a doctor sooner rather than later,” lamented Rarity as blue sparks danced around Macintoshs stomach. There were bite marks and gashes above his collar as well as deeper cuts on his backside. Some of them sealed up and the sparks vanished into his skin. “This is the best I can do for you Macintosh, you don’t have any punctured veins or arteries so I think you will be…ok.”
He nodded thanks and rested his head on the floorboards. Pinkie Pie was consoling him in her own way telling her corny jokes and spinning short silly stories. Rarity would have scolded her a little but he wore a contented smile at Pinkies ramblings. They were still collecting their thoughts when an aggravated cry ran out.
“Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!”
Twilight and Applejack tore away from Macintosh and jumped to Rainbow Dash who was sitting with her hooves against her cheeks, game board splayed out before her. Twilight frantically studied Dashs face in worry while Applejack looked at the gameboard:
A sordid action takes center stage
So a cheater will learn to act their age
“Dash did you go an’ try to cheat when we weren’t lookin?” asked Applejack apprehensively.
“NO! I didn’t cheat. I was just trying to drop the dice so they would both fall on six,” she replied guiltily looking away.
“Uh-uh, well Dash that would be cheatin’,” retorted Applejack bluntly, “an’ now you’re getting punished for it too! Criminy this game doesn’t let a pony catch a break.”
“Whaddy thinks gonna happen to me?” she asked looking around their faces. She hung her head.
“Ya shouldn’t have tried to cheat. We dunno know what could happen right now. This game is plain mean and every turn is unpredictable. Think before you roll like that again before somethin’ else horrible happens,” lectured Applejack motioning to Macintosh, who was chuckling softly at Pinkies jokes.
Twilight and Applejack glanced warily around the room before staring back at Rainbow Dash. After being unable to discern any significant changes to her blue friend Applejack trotted back to her brother muttering under her breath in disappointment.
“I’m sorry Twi. I just want this game over and done with. It sucks and I hate playing it and I want my friends back and I-”
“I understand Dash, but you shouldn’t have tried to cheat,” she said putting a hoof over her friends shoulder “This isn’t over yet and we’ve got some more turns to go,”
“Who’s turn is in anyway?” Dash asked, rubbing her foreleg.
Twilight glanced to the board. Spike and Fluttershys token had fallen over, but remained stuck to the last space. It must be Raritys turn. She called the white unicorn over and after a brief exchange of whether or not Applejack should roll again she threw the dice into the board and hastily jumped away. Twilight and Dash peered into the green orb and….
“Nothing,” growled Dash after half a minute “Is it broken or something?”
“I don’t think its possible,” said Twilight worriedly “Raritys roll should have worked,”
Dash picked up the dice and threw them into the board. The orb yielded no indication of a rolled turn. Twilight picked them up and started shaking them. Maybe since they were partners she could still roll…
“Well that was laaAAame,” Dashs eyes widened in surprise. Her voice didn’t usually crack that bad. She cleared her throat.
“You okay Dash? Do you feel sick?” asked Twilight curiously.
“I’m good. Really Twilight. I feeEEel fine,”
“Oh my goodness gracious! Rainbow Dash you’re shrinking!” shrieked Rarity.
Immediately switching to a standing position she gasped and confirmed that Rarity was right. Ten minutes ago she was eye to eye with Twilight and now she was staring at her jawline. Dash stepped backwards in disbelief.
“Omigosh the games maAAking me shrink,” she winced, her voice cracking again “I’m super short now!”
“From the sound of it I’d say you’re not only shrinking…” noted Rarity at the speech change “You sound a bit higher pitched too dearie. Perhaps what’s happening to you is...aging in reverse?”
Twilight turned away and giggled a bit. It WAS a befitting punishment and while she felt bad for laughing she couldn’t help herself. She hadn’t laughed all day. Regaining her composure she turned back to the game board and tossed the dice inside rolling a five. The next clue simmered forth:
A hunter from the wild past
seeks his vengeance at long last
The color drained from Twilights face. She jumped back in panic and urgently looked for an exit. “We have to get out of here! Anywhere! Now! Hurry! He’s coming!”
“What’s goin’ on? What is it? Who’s comin’ Twi?”
To be concluded...
The Greatest Game IV
There was a deafening CRACK as something rang past their ears and into a hanging lantern shattering it into a million pieces. The barn door slammed open as the menacing figure depicted on the case entered the building. Clad in some sort of khaki clothing, black boots and black lined cape. Standing upright and holding some sort of tube in his hands. Twilight was shoving open a cracked window frame attempting to clamber outside.
“GET BACK HERE YOU BLITHERING MULE AND RETURN MY EFFECTS AT ONCE!” roared Van Pelt slamming the lever down.
The hunter pointed the hollow tube towards Twilight and she hugged the floorboards of the rafters. Another shot whizzed past her head tearing through the wall behind her. Stumbling out the window she rolled off the roof into a hay bale with Dash, Applejack and Pinkie right behind her.
“What the haaAAy was that Twi?” asked Dash rolling to her hooves.
There was no time to answer. There was another volley of bangs from inside the barn. The hinges on the barn door blew away as the hunter kicked it open. He crouched and took aim.
Twilight leapt to another hay bale as another projectile dug into the ground near her hooves “I don’t really know! Zecora told me he was the most dangerous thing in Jumanji!”
“I believe I’ll second that notion,” yelped Rarity, a shot digging into the dirt near her.
Pinkie cartwheeled over to them “Oh wow so this guy is going to be the toughest challenge yet huh? Too bad for him he’s going down BIG-TIME!” she exclaimed frantically digging through Twilights saddlebags. She nimbly pulled the machete out of the bag, raising it over her head.
Another shot tore through the hay bale, ricocheting off the blade, then a wagon hubcap before embedding itself into a barrel of lantern oil. A steady stream of liquid gushed out the hole.
“Criminy!” yelled Applejack “I definitely don’t wanna end up at the short end of that stick.” She leapt out from behind the hay bale to join her friends. Her hat flew off as a slug tore through it, dangerously close to her head. “Dash git over here!”
“Alright comin’!” Dash leapt over but tripped over her now gangly legs. Applejack made a move to grab her.
“Don’t move or I’ll blow your blinking brains out!” barked Van Pelt. He slowly walked towards Dash with the weapon pointed at her, boots squishing in the oily dirt. Dash froze. Partly because of her own shrinking height the fear instilled upon by the menacing figure was twice as terrifying. They all watched in slow motion as he rested the tube on Dashs face. She shut her eyes and-
Dash opened them back up. The hunter tossed away a square cartridge and was fumbling with his pockets. She kicked at the tube and turned tail. Rarity took the opportunity to loosen some sparks onto the ground. The stream of oil promptly ignited and raced to the canister.
“Let’s get outta this plaaAAace!” Dash yelled as they all turned tail to escape the explosion. They galloped fast as they could back to town. Twilight swiveled her head back to the hunter who was crouching in the distance.
“He’s not chasing us! Girls I think we’re in the cle-”
The strap holding her binoculars severed off, falling to the ground. Twilight gasped turning left down the trail. The hunter was out of sight.
The wind around the barn was thick with the smoke of gunpowder, mixing with the burning oil from the explosion. Sticks snapped beneath Van Pelts boots as he walked over to the binoculars, calmly patting away the fire on his shoulder. He grabbed them, gingerly wiping the lens and stuffing it into his satchel. The cowboy hat he had shot off had rope in it. He took that too. Lying next to the leather strap on the ground were a few strands of purple hair. Van Pelt picked it up, rotating the tresses in his fingers before sniffing it and turning his attention southward. He began to march into Ponyville.
They made it to the library in record time. Twilight slammed the door shut before collapsing against it in a heavy pant. That last shot could have taken her head clean off and threw her in a running panic. So much for pacing herself.
“D’ya think he’ll be followin’ us?” asked Applejack walking over to Twilight. She was sweating herself from the run and the battle with the hyena. “Ya’ll know we left Macintosh back there. I can’t believe we jus’ up and split like that. We should go back for ‘im.”
Rarity tenderly placed a hoof over her friends shoulder “I’m afraid not. For your sake and ours it’s best that we left him there. That hunter is not after your brother Applejack. He wants us,” she glanced over to Twilight who was still huffing by the front door “Or one of us specifically.”
The game board noisily clunked to the floor. A bullet had ripped through Twilights left saddlebag, weakening the fabric to the point of disintegration.
“OoOh! OOH! Look whooooos turn it is!” bounced Pinkie Pie excitedly nudging the shocked unicorn over to the game board. Rarity gulped, looking around as if planning an escape.
“You….need to roll your…turn, Rarity,” panted Twilight standing back up. She trotted over to Rainbow Dash and sat next to her. “How…are you holding up there?” she asked the blue Pegasus. The only response she got was a cocked eyebrow before Dash walked silently over to the sink. Rainbow Dash was looking much ganglier now. Just barely a teenager by her guessing.
With a defeated sigh Rarity levitated the two dice “I suppose there’s no point in delay…brace yourselves girls.” Rarity tossed the dotted cubes into the gameboard. Green smoke swirled in the orb:
They skitter, pinch, sting and crawl
Keep wary eyes to the floors and walls
“Not more bugs!” exclaimed Rarity, her eyes darting around the room. There were immediate noises scratching all around them just as promised. Dash flitted over to Jumanji and shoved it into the other still useable saddlebag.
“Alright you guys, it’s time to get movin’-
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” Pinkie Pie screamed jumping in the air. She suddenly tackled Dash.
“Oh my gosh THIS is what you sounded like when you were a filly Rainbow Dash you sound soooooooooo super cute I could just eat you all up like a big tasty rainbow-y cookie,” Pinkie gripped the startled Pegasus tightly “Of course a cookie at this time of night would be one tough toughie to get my hooves on…”
“Lemme go Pinks!” squeaked Rainbow Dash trying to wiggle out of the hug “I know I’m shrink-ing also you…are…crushing….meeee.”
Pinkie Pie released Dash “I’m sorry Dashie, it’s just I never had a little sister of my own like Rarity or Applejack just sisters of my own age but they were never any fun they were always super gloomy,” apologized Pinkie as Dash gulped for air. She turned her attention to the other ponies in the room. “I guess it’s time to leave then you silly filly so stop playing fish out of water and let’s go!”
They went to rush out the building when the floor in front of the doorway blasted apart. A jet-black pincer appeared from the hole, followed by another as a gigantic scorpion crawled out. The stinger curled at the end of its tail was dripping with deadly venom.
“AH! GET IT AWAAAY FROM ME!” screeched Rarity backpedaling from the monster. The scorpion struck. The stinger slammed into the floorboards next to her. Rarity dodged it leaping away to the far corner of the room.
“Twi! That thing ain’t budgin’ from the door,” Applejack said as she reached for her missing hat. “I got no rope on me neither, what are we gonna do?”
A slightly smaller scorpion busted out from the floorboards behind them, hissing menacingly. Another pair of scorpions were erratically climbing down the staircase, stumbling over their many legs. Twilight cast her life-detection spell.
“They’re everywhere!” she cried stumbling backwards. More and more of the scorpions were pouring into view by the second; light from the lamps bouncing off their glistening black carapaces. Pinkie Pie was bounding around the room laughing as the scorpions struck and missed the prancing pink pony.
“C’mon everypony! They’re not so scary!” she shouted over the sounds of snapping pincers clawing at her. The largest one by the door struck its stinger at her. This time it got caught in the floor. It struggled to pull it out.
“Nows our chance! LETS MOVE!” cried Dash zooming past the horde of snapping pincers dodging them left and right.
Applejack raced through the room being careful to avoid the scorpions. Twilight followed with the machete spinning around her slicing off any limb that dared come near her. Pinkie hopped over the scorpions bouncing off their shiny black heads.
“Rarity!” called Applejack with one hoof still in the room “Git over here NOW!”
The unicorn was shivering in the back. She was surrounded with no way out. The gigantic scorpion tugged its stinger loose, it started crawling towards her.
“I can’t! I feel sick! HELP! SOMEPONY HELP!”
Applejack swallowed hard “Imma comin’ Rarity! Make WAY!” She charged, ducking her head and barreling through the mass of insects. “Rarity git up we gotta go!”
She shook the trembling unicorn until Rarity came back to her senses. “How are we getting out of here?” asked Rarity. She jumped onto Applejacks back when she motioned to do so. The mass of scorpions was so great now that they completely blocked the doorway. Applejack tensed up.
“Heya Rarity. I know yer probably freaking out a little here, but I need ya to do somethin’ for me,”
“When I say ‘now’ I want you to magic up your brightest light spell ya can think of.”
“How is that going to help our predicament here and now?”
“Jus’ do as I say and we’ll be safe ya hear? I promise.”
Applejack started her gallop towards the door. The clacking and chattering intensified as she approached the wall of scorpions. Stingers rose up high in anticipation.
A brilliant flash of light erupted from Raritys horn. The scorpions screeched in pain from the harsh radiance and shielded there beady black eyes from it. A few stabbed at the two ponies but missed. Most were thrashing about noisily shrieking in pain at the brightness. Applejack bowled through the scorpions one by one, emerging outside in a heap on the ground.
“You made it that was so cool!” squealed Rainbow Dash helping the earth pony to her feet. “The way you just threw those things around when Rarity blinded them was just awesome!”
Rarity chuckled, then turned to her savior “Applejack I want to thank you and apologize for back in there. I just get so petrified of bugs that I tend to lose my head a bit.”
“Weren’t nothin’ Rarity,” replied Applejack casually. “I always got yer back when it counts.”
“Much appreciated I…oh dear me, look at that would you Twilight?” said Rarity pointing a hoof towards the edge of town.
“What is it? Is it the hyena?” Twilight reached for her missing pair of binoculars before squinting into the inky distance. The moon above cast enough light for her to see a tangled mess of vines worming out of the forest and into town.
“Oh this isn’t good,” she said nervously “If all this stuff ends up in town then it’ll be destroyed and if it’s destroyed then Celestia will find out and if Celestia finds out-”
The door behind her lurched ominously as the scorpions inside pressed against it. Twilight jumped up in shock “We got to get out of here now! Where’s a safe place out of town we can hide?
“…ya’ll think we could head over to Fluttershys cottage?” suggested Applejack softly, looking to the east.
“OR!” piped up Pinkie Pie wearing a completely eager look on her face “We could totally stop by SugarCube Corner to grab a bite to eat so we have some energy for the rest of the night!”
They all looked at each other up and down. The past few hours certainly had been trying for all involved and their collective energy had waned the longer the nighttime dragged on. Twilight only considered the notion for half a minute before nodding her head in agreement.
“Alright, since there are no objections to visiting the bakery I propose we get ourselves galloping,” Twilight cast a glance over to some of the houses being invaded by the vines. A few ponies were already waking up and reacting to the invading plant life. The wooden door to the library heaved dangerously as the scorpions pushed against it.
“Alright, let’s head to SugarCube Corner!” affirmed Twilight as she sped away, her friends following close behind as the library doors splintered apart behind her.
The scorpions poured out of the library, stumbling around in pain from the brilliant flash of light that blinded them earlier. A particularly small one was crushed beneath a heavy black boot as the hunter arrived. The scorpions scattered from the area as he bent down to inspect the ground. He sneered at the sight of the three sets of matching hoof prints, eyes following the very obvious trail leading away to a large pink building across the town. Van Pelt adjusted the sights on his rifle and marched in that direction.
“They’re only the tiniest bit stale but I’m sure you girls will LOVE them,” gushed Pinkie Pie piling an assortment of muffins and cupcakes onto a large silver platter. There was a squelching noise as she squeezed a fresh helping of strawberry icing all over the treats. Pinkie took a big happy bite out of one “Itsh delishioush!”
Rarity leaned forward and gave the platter a cautious sniff “I hate being a bother but is this all you have in stock Pinkie?”
“That’s all I got on hoof Rarity. I’m so super sorry I couldn’t whip you girls some late night snacks but see,” Pinkie motioned to the steel oven doors “Mr. and Mrs. Cake lock the handles at night now I think from me making too many late night snacks for Gummy so if I could I totally would but I just can’t bake anything until mornings now.”
Dash leaned up on the counter waving a hoof around to get at a muffin. She was very tiny now having shrunk to around Appleblooms height. Possibly even smaller. A hoof connected with the treat spiraling it close to the edge where it toppled over into her mouth.
“Hey this isn’t so bad at all!” she said brightly, taking small bites from the muffin. Twilight breathed a sigh of relief at Dashs bravery in taking the bite as the rest all began to dig into the plate. Pinkie may not have an iron gut like Spike but her taste buds could find a way to love everything. After some quiet munching the platter emptied into crumbs and scrunched up wrappers.
“Well that was a mite tasty there Pinkie Pie,” Applejack said licking some pink icing off her lips “Thanks a lot!”
“Oh no problem girls! I think it would have been even better if we came earlier because then the food I baked wouldn’t have been so crunchy munchy,” replied Pinkie happily “I just knew you were all starting to drag your hooves but now that we’ve all got some spring in our step we should keep on rolling right?”
They all nodded and Pinkie bounced up and down in excitement. “My turn my turn my tuuuuuurn,” she sang pulling out the board game and flipping it open. Pinkie grabbed the dice in her hooves, violently shaking them before tossing the dice onto the game board with a clack.
Big as apples these balls of ice
Through thick umbrella they will slice
“Apples an’ ice?” murmured Applejack in amusement “Ain’t that silly. Sounds like weather but no weather ‘round these parts I’ve heard,” she turned her head towards the little blue Pegasus “Dash?”
Rainbow Dashs frizzy hair was standing on edge “That’s really really bad news. It’s banned weather that Cloudsdale doesn’t produce anymore.”
“Why’s it banned?” asked Twilight with a frown. She’d finally read through her copy of A Complete history of Cloudsdale after her visit to the cloud factory but banned weather was something not covered in those chapters
There was a smashing noise as a large hailstone broke through the roof and rolled to the center of the room spinning slightly. Twilight put a hoof to it, feeling how cold and smooth it was before looking nervously up at the gaping hole it left in the ceiling.
“That’s why,” said Dash darting underneath the heavy wooden table “EVERYPONY DUCK AND COVEEER!”
Applejack dove underneath as well as a sudden volley of hail pounded through the roof and into the store. Pots pans and all sorts of equipment banged and shattered as the gigantic blocks of ice slammed into the store. Twilight threw up a magical barrier to protect her, Pinkie and Rarity from the deadly barrage but was struggling under the assault. Every glancing strike caused her to wince and shudder as the shimmering purple dome blinked with hailstone that bounced off.
The icy bombardment lasted for a good four minutes after the first stone fell and just as Twilight felt her protective barrier wavering from the punishment before the freezing rocks finally dribbled into smaller chunks, then stopping completely.
“Goodness that was absolutely frightening,” remarked Rarity surveying the damage. The entire store was a wreck; there was a least a dozen or so holes in the ceiling and floorboards with every window perfectly shattered. The hailstones made heavy clunking noises as Rarity shuffled through over to Twilight, who was clutching her forehead.
“You could have asked me to help you with that barrier spell, it wouldn’t have been a bother,” she said to Twilight who carefully removed her hoof from her face “Strain yourself too much like that could cause you to black out. I’ve seen it happen before.”
Twilight wobbled a bit, “Teaching you that trick in that small of a time frame would have been too difficult. I appreciate it though,” she smiled “I feel better already. It’s a good thing we did come here to eat after all; I wouldn’t have had the energy to cast it otherwise.”
Pinkie Pie beamed from across the room “See?! I told you girls it was a super idea to come here! So who’s turn next? Who’s turn next!?”
“It’s our turn Pinkie,” said Twilight quietly, looking over at Dash who threw her little hooves up in the air “I guess I’ll roll again.”
With some trepidation she picked up the dice and biting her lip, tossed them onto the board.
Feline spots in the jungle blend
Her sharpened claws tear and rend
“Whoa nelly, that definitely don’t sound good,” groaned Applejack, backing away from the board game.
“None of these clues ever sounded good AJ,” peeped Dash. The now very little filly cowered underneath the orange pony. Her lack of confidence was now directly channeled through her lack of height.
Low growling made itself heard from the back of the room. Twilight swiveled her head in time to lock her purple eyes with a gleaming pair of light green, attached to a powerful animal crouched on the countertop.
“Twi! Move!” commanded Applejack. The unicorn remained frozen and Applejack shoved her away as the leopard pounced. It was just soon enough; the jungle cat swiveled and righted itself, baring white fangs in the dimly lit bakery.
Thinking on her hooves Twilight magically threw open the door, bolting outside. In a single moment of clarity she had the foresight to slam it behind her, nailing the pursuing leopard in the face before it clambered out the window hissing and snarling after her.
“Let’s go after ‘em girls,” shouted Applejack throwing open the door “Come hell or high water we’re in this together!”
Pinkie Pie bounced out the door after Applejack, followed by Rarity and finally, with some apprehension Rainbow Dash trotted outside to follow…
Dash squeaked and was very roughly pulled into the air by her tail, fighting with her wings until she rotated to face her attacker.
“What do you want you weirdo!?” she demanded swinging uselessly at Van Pelt.
His face contorted in amusement “That blasted little horse I’m after doesn’t do a fine job of holding still. I shan’t be gallivanting after her all bloody night, so I’ve got you…to make her come to me.”
“You’re some kinda cowampfmpfff,” the last few words were muffled out as Van Pelt stuffed a rag down the ponys throat, and with a wicked grin turned his gaze south of town.
Breathing came in short tired bursts from the purple unicorn. Despite her languid literary lifestyle she found the energy to really move herself when her life depended on it. The leopard following her was more at home in trees so this narrow stretch of forest she was galloping down was really saving her neck right not. Occasional glances coupled with the sounds of slashing claws at her tail was her dangerous reminder to keep on galloping, so she did continue as the trees around her grew more twisted and the leaves consistently brighter shade of yellow. Twilight was heading straight for Froggy Bottem Bog.
“We’re right behind you darling!”
“We’ve got yer back!”
The confident voices of her friends did little to actually comfort her. She was the one being chased by a bloodthirsty leopard, not them. The murky waters of the bog loomed ahead of her and before she knew it she had to stop at the waters edge or else risk getting stuck in the quagmire.
Twilight turned and face the leopard, which had a smug air about it’s jowls. It obviously sensed that it had cornered its prey.
“Jus’ stay still girl! I reckon us four together can take down this overgrown kitty cat no sweat,” boasted Applejack nearing the bogs edge.
“Three,” corrected Rarity, her horn aglow “I don’t see Rainbow Dash with us.”
Ignoring the banter behind it the leopard shrank to the ground, long tail whipping back and forth. Rarity knew what was happening. Opalescence did this right before attacking the occasional mouse unfortunate enough to pay her boutique a visit. The leopard was going to pounce.
“Twilight! It’s going to jump at you! Do something!” she shouted.
The leopard sprang at Twilight. It’s cold yellow eyes bearing down on her, baring it’s teeth mid-leap. Closing her eyes Twilight recited the one spell she knew she could count on working. There was a flash of light, the smell of burning ozone filled the air around her as she magically blinked out of her spot and teleported to the spot directly behind her.
“You did it! Great job Twilight! You really gave that lil’ pussycat a run for its money!” hooted Pinkie Pie bouncing in place. Twilights eyes were still rolling in her head. That spell always seemed to throw off balance.
“Whah? Where’s it?” she muttered, shaking her head clear.
Applejack laughed heartily, pointing a hoof to the bog “There’s yer mean ol’ pussycat Twi!”
The leopard was snarling, struggling in the sticky hold the muddy waters had ensnared. Eventually it abandoned its feeble attempts of escape and simply growled at Twilight.
“There’s much time to celebrate later. I’d say we caught a fortunate break if it weren’t for our missing Rainbow Dash,” spoke Rarity calmly, turning around to face the path behind. “Regarding that, I believe we should get ourselves going back to look for her correct?”
Pinkie Pie dropped Jumanjii onto the ground “Let’s roll before we head out then girls! That way whatever shows up will just be left behind when we head back to town!”
Applejack flinched; it would be her turn again. The leopard hissed at her from its rooted spot in the bog. She took a deep breath “What the hay. Gimme those dice Pinkie.”
The familiar clacking of dice on ivory rang through their ears. Applejacks token slid forward the five spaces and the next message flowed forth.
Wriggling up from the river flood
Come thousands of leeches to suck your blood
“Let’s amscray!” cried Applejack being all too familiar with the common leech. Pinkie Pie closed the board game up and hastily shoved it into the pack. The sounds of sloshing water behind them coinciding with the wretched howling of the panther spurred them forth. Applejack was glad they could dodge that bullet. Sounds of gunfire going off in town on the path ahead of them immediately doused her spirits. Now she had an idea just where Rainbow Dash may have ended up.
“Lemme outta this cage you loser!” demanded Dash kicking against the wooden bars keeping her prisoner. They would have easily splintered into pieces against her hoof had she been her proper age.
“Just you wait! When I’m through with this game I’m gonna whip up the biggest tornado ever and send that thing flying far far away from here and nopony will ever have to deal with it again! You’re gonna be history!”
Van Pelt ignored the taunts as he was busily tending a small fire he’d set after shooting a volley of bullets into the air. Orange light flickered around them casting long shadows on the leaves and bushes surrounding them. Dash ceased her struggles for just a moment.
“Just what the heck are you anyway?”
Van Pelt leered at Dash “A hunter you little blue twit. Right now, you are playing bait.”
“No stupid,” snorted the little Pegasus “Like, what are you? Haven’t ya noticed that there’s nothing around here that looks like you? That should, I dunno, make ya a teensy bit-”
“Irrelevant,” interrupted the hunter “The march of time doesn’t concern Jumanji. The game focuses on the one who rolls the dice, be it man or beast. The Laws of Jumanji are set in stone, and its residents are bound by them eternal.”
This time Dash didn’t respond, trying to collect her thoughts at her captors’ new revelations. Quite abruptly he stood upright, stamped out the small fire and pointed his rifle into the darkness.
“I know you’re there. Show yourself!” barked Van Pelt, aiming at the spot where the lilac bush had swayed against the wind.
“Just lemme go and I promise I won’t kick your butt too bad,” resumed Dash rocking against her prison “So’s ya know, I’ve got a move that can really put the pain on ya and you’ve got another-”
One of the bars on her cage splintered leaving a smoking stub of a bar very near to Dashs ear. Van Pelt had turned around to shoot her, or near enough. Dash backed into the small corner of the cage.
“Don’t be so bloody chatty…or I’ll shoot your mouth out,” said the hunter acidly. He could smell the scent of the small purple pony on the gently breeze, and losing any advantage of shooting her was not on his agenda.
He slammed the lever in a quick motion chambering another round, aiming his rifle back into the darkness “Come on out you mangy little mule…”
Van Pelt turned in time to dodge the spinning blade of his machete. The sharp edge grazed the side of his face, finger slipping on the trigger and going off again at an angle.
“Blasted donkey!” he roared ignoring the blood dripping on his blackened shoulders. The machete swerved in mid-air heading back for Van Pelt. He ducked, and immediately swore loudly realizing that he was not the intended target this time. The blade sliced through the rope of Applejacks lasso holding up Dashs cage, dropping to the ground and freeing her.
“C’MON DASH LESSGO!” screamed Applejack from behind the thick trunk of a nearby oak. Dash scrambled to her hooves, her wings buzzing on her back as she half-flew over to her friend’s voice. The clacking of another loaded round filled her ears. Dash spotted Rarity behind another tree, her horn glowing brightly in full control of the blade.
A bullet struck the machete dead-on sending it flying away from the hunter, and breaking Raritys concentration on the blade as well.
“That’s our cue I suppose,” she said as Dash scooted past her, jumping atop Applejacks back. “Let’s get moving!”
Bullets whizzed frantically past their ears, digging into their trunks as the ponies sped away fast as possible from the enraged hunter. Speeding away from the small clearing as fast as possible was top priority. Applejack turned and smiled at Dash clinging to her neck, panting into her blonde mane. She wouldn’t be losing her to this horrible game. Not this time.
“I’m sorry about not helping out back there,” apologized Twilight during the run through town “I really should have stuck around and helped. I’m such a cowardly little…”
“Hey!” piped up Dash still gripping ahold of Applejack “You got nothin’ to mope about Twilight. That guy would’ve blown you’re head off had he gotten the chance. He almost got mine eveNNYOUCH!” Dashs lower half bounced upwards as they leapt across a drainage ditch, causing her to bite her tongue.
Ponyville was in complete chaos now. Wood thrown about from blasted rooftops crunched under their feet as they ran past. The weather team was doing their best keeping the semi-active storm under control. The numerous vines, scorpions and hyenas were throwing the town upside down. Every second they delayed was another opportunity for Van Pelt, or other escaped wildlife to burst forth and attack them.
“Well here we are,” said Twilight glumly approaching the last possible safe haven around town with caution. The rest of the ponies had equally gloomy faces. It almost looked too safe if that was possible. With bated breath they stepped inside Fluttershys cottage.
“Honestly girls we shouldn’t fret. This will all be over an done with soon enough,” assured Rarity looking around the room “Hardships like these make us better in the long run. Stronger. More appreciative of what we have,” she was reaching for her singed hair again but immediately stopped herself “Now let’s have a go at it!”
Pinkie Pie jumped up “That’s what I’ve been TRYYING to tell you all the whole time! Ya got to keep in your head that this is just a silly game and we’re gonna beat it. Don’t ya see girls? It’s all fun and games!”
“Except the parts where we were running for our lives,” said Twilight emphatically stamping her hoof “That wasn’t so much fun.”
“But it’s a gaaaaame Twilight! Don’t you see? Sure it’s dangerous. Sure it took some of our friends away. It’s a really really super high-risk game too. If we can beat this, we can beat anything! Now let’s do THIS!”
Twilight took the game board out of her pack. They had come this far. Facing nearly a dozen dangerous challenges over the course of a single evening. Glancing at the fallen totem her eyes traveled upwards to the inscribed letters. She only hoped the game still played by its own rules. Twilight wanted her friends back.
“It’s your turn right Pinks?” asked Dash looking up at her. Pinkie nodded and gave her a super big smile.
“I’m soooo close to winning too! Just look! I’m only 6 spaces away!” exclaimed Pinkie excitedly pointing to the Rhinoceros totem.
Applejack wasn’t as elated “That’s fantastic Pinks, now roll yet turn and let’s wrap this up once and fer all.”
They all held their breath as Pinkie Pie took the dice, shaking them up in her hooves. She tossed them into the board.
A bolt from the blue draws much ire
As the temperature climbs higher and higher
“SNAKE EYES!? ARE YOU SERIOUS!?” shouted Pinkie in surprise “I’m sooo super close too! Hold on girls, I got this,”
A thunderous roaring filled the ears and a for a split second the cottage was filled with a bright yellow light cast by a streak of lightning. Timber and glass exploded around them. Her ears still ringing, Twilight got up to survey the damage.
“Can anyone hear me!?” she yelled loudly, looking around. A large fire had erupted from the lightning strike in several places inside the cottage. Some floorboards from Fluttershys bedroom upstairs began falling apart, crashing into the ground floor. “Helloooo?”
“Over here….” croaked a voice from underneath an over-turned table. Twilight limped over to the sounds of coughing. She nudged the table aside.
“PINKIE! OH NO!” cried Twilight, her face twisting into shock. The pink pony had been grazed by the wicked bolt of lightning, a scorch mark tattooed black on her usually pink coat, spider webbing along her belly and flank down to a charred stump of a tail. Her eyes were shut, mouth contorted into a grimace.
“Twilight,” continued Pinkie, her eyes still shut tight “Give me the game.”
“Nonononono shhhhh!” hushed Twilight wiping the sweat from her friends’ brow. “You can’t move! You’re too hurt. Let me help you!” Drawing some magic from her horn she summoned a wet cloth and placed it over her forehead.
“Don’t shush me Twilight,” her friend wheezed in response, wiggling the cloth off her face “I’m close now, it’s almost finished ya know. I’m the super grand master of board games. This one’s a toughie, but I can handle it,” she coughed again, the fire was spreading around them “Give me the game.”
Biting her lip in concern she listened to Pinkies demand and trotted over to Jumanji. The board itself was wreathed in fire. Somehow the game did not actually catch fire despite the hot embers licking at the wooden board. Twilight tried to focus some simple levitation but couldn’t. Her mind was clouded with the image of Pinkie behind her, scarred by the lightning and the rising amount of smoke in the baking furnace of Fluttershys cottage. Instead she kicked the board over to her friend.
She was halfway there, sliding the red-hot gameboard when:
Twilight eeped, jumping around to face the voice. Van Pelt stood in the doorway with his rifle pointed right at her. His hair and face was alighted by the orange fire, yellowed teeth glinting as he spoke.
“End of the line for you girlie,” he sneered, his own voice coming out dry as sandpaper “You’ve had a nice long run, and now you’ve cornered yourself for me. Damned lot of good it did for you now,” The lever on his rifle slammed back down “Any last words?”
Twilight gulped, turning to look where she had kicked the game case over to where Pinkie lay. It was no longer in her hooves now. “I uh-uhh....”
Van Pelt chuckled, a cold chilling sound to hear as the cottage melted around them “Is that all?”
Twilight glanced backwards at the sound. She could barely make out the sight of her friend through the heat haze.
“Wha?” Van Pelt winced looking past Twilight.
“Jumanji,” repeated the voice slightly louder. Zecoras words echoed back to her from earlier in the evening. There was a distant sore of…chiming noise in the air. It was Twilights turn to laugh now.
“She said Jumanji,” repeated Twilight with a relieved giggle “We did it. We beat you.”
He pulled the trigger on the rifle, a bullet with its intended destination right between her eyes. It stopped right in front of her still spiraling. Now it was wisping backwards like a painting being smeared by it’s brush. A powerful wind was blowing around the cottage.
The western wall broke open in an extra loud crash. All manner of monsters unleashed by the game came flowing in by means of the powerful gale. The three hyena, myriads of black chittering scorpions, the writhing leeches, marauding ants, gigantic green serpent, hailstones, snaking green vines, flock of bats, snarling leopard. All the tangible creatures the game called forth were whirling about inside the twister. Van Pelt was too swirling about in the vacuum leading back into the green jewel. With a wayward swipe he grabbed the tip of the helmet Twilight had been wearing the majority of the evening, pulling it off her head as the last trace of everything that had been released from the game vanished. A brilliant green light burst forth so Twilight shut her eyes and…
…opened them back up. There was simultaneous gasping around the table. They were all back in the library. The delicate china cups of tea bubbled around them. Small stacks of untouched sandwiches with cinnamon sliced apples sat in piles scattered the table. The familiar late afternoon sunlight streamed inside the library. The silence broke when Applejack jumped at Fluttershy from across the table.
“OH sweet Celestia I thought I’d never see yer smilin’ little face ever again Fluttershy!” she shouted happily giving Fluttershy a super-tight bear hug. She grabbed Spike as well, and the rest of them all joined in the hug laughing at how now everything WAS finally over. The fear they had each felt subsiding once they were all together in that tight knit embrace. Everything did turn out all right.
“WHOOOO!” screamed Pinkie Pie jumping on the table doing a messy dance. “ALLLLL RIIIIIIGHT THAT WAS THE BEST TEA PARTY EVER!”
“WHO’S UP FOR ROUND 2!?”
Far up north near a dry riverbed in the mighty misty Appalachians……
“Ah saw it fall over ‘ere! Ah swear it fell right over yonder outta the skah!”
“Well I think you’re seeing things. PLUS I don’t hear those knocking noises either so you’re hearing things too. HAHA! You’re practically your Granny now and you’re only seven!” chided a shrill, but slightly raspy voice.
“I’m not really sure we should be out here you guys…we’d be safer back at the camp telling campfire stories or something,”
“C’mon! Ah see it stickin’ out the ground right down there by the river! Aw what’s tha worse that can happen anyways ya stick in the mud?”