The eagles soared through the cloudy sky, passing over tall mountains and wide, blue seas. Eventually they came upon a chain of remote islands, isolated from the brutish and uncouth mainland. Grimstar squinted at the edge of a cliff just below a dormant volcano’s rim, making out a tiny light flashing in a distinctive pattern.
“Someone is signaling us,” he shouted to his companions through the rushing wind, “We should land here!”
They circled the cliff until a suitable landing spot was found. After touching down, Grimstar slid off of his eagle’s back, patting it gently on its beak. He helped Gracelove and the three novices dismount, but Killthrust refused his aid. Instead, the barbarian jumped from his eagle and executed a series of acrobatic flips, landing with a cocky grin. The wizard sighed testily, but said nothing. The party looked around at their new surroundings.
The area was well maintained, with a small cobblestone walkway leading up the mountainside from the island below. As the party followed the path upwards, it passed through an elaborate wooden gate and twisted gracefully around a small pond filled with large, golden-scaled fish. It continued on, leading to an elegant, multi-tiered pagoda nestled between two rocky outcrops that jutted from the volcano rim. Its wood was silver with age.
Though the structure had obviously been well looked after for most of its existence, at some point it had come into a state of disrepair. The façade had faded badly, and many of the decorative shingles were missing from its roof. The shimenawa (sacred plaited rope) above its door indicated that it was a shrine, or had been at some point. The multitude of omamori (protective paper amulets) and hamaya (evil-destroying arrows) covering its every surface implied that it was haunted. Surrounding the pagoda were dozens of finely carved stone statues of foreign gods. They were scattered throughout a grove of fragrant cherry trees, whose blossoms drifted lazily from their branches and blanketed the ground like fresh snow.
“Cooooool…” said Sweetie Belle, “Everything’s all Japanese-y!”
"It is quite beautiful.” agreed Grimstar, “Though, I wonder where the person who signaled us could be?"
“I suppose that’s my cue.”
An elvish archer emerged from behind one of the stone statues holding a silver hand mirror, which she used to flash reflected sunlight at the assembled heroes in the same pattern they had seen before. Her pale features were offset by her dark, straight hair, which was held in a tight bun by a lacquered comb. Her kimono (Asian-style dress) was of the edo komon style, in white with indigo accents forming a repeating chrysanthemum pattern and featuring the triple-diamond mon (emblem) of its wearer. A silver obi (sash) was tied around her waist, a small tanto (blade) tucked discretely into it by the small of her back. Her long flowing sleeves were embroidered with matching silver silk, and trimmed in...
"Augh, stop talking about dresses!” shouted Scootaloo.
“It’s good to see you again, Darlynn Evansong.” said Gracelove. “What brings you to such a distant and exotic land?”
“My services have been engaged by the Shogun,” she explained, “His retainer has mysteriously gone missing of late, and treachery is suspected.”
“He should keep it by his bed.” advised Sweetie Belle, “That’s where I keep my retainer.”
“How amusing.” said Darlynn, dryly, “Though of course I am referring to a trusted servant, and not a dental health device. But, alas, look at the state of you!”
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” said Applebloom, brushing some of the filth from her shoulders, “It’s just dragon guts.”
“There is a hot springs nearby,” Darlynn said adamantly, “I insist you refresh yourselves before we continue.”
“We don’t have to role-play taking a bath, do we?” asked Scootaloo.
“No, no,” Rarity reassured her, “We can just skip to afterwards.”
Feeling cleansed in both mind and body, the party gathered by the edge of the hot springs to discuss the challenges that lie ahead. Darlynn served them matcha (ceremonial green tea) as a purification ritual.
“You know,” noted Applebloom, “If you said stuff in English to start with, you wouldn’t have to keep defining everything.”
“Are we actually having a tea party?” Killthrust asked, scowling, “Or have I gone mad with boredom?”
“It’s a tea ceremony, you uncultured…” Darlynn started.
“So tell us, Darlynn,” Grimstar said quickly, “how can we aid you in your mission?”
The elf regained her composure. “I have tracked the missing retainer to this location, the Silver Pagoda.” she explained. “There is evidence that he entered the pagoda several months ago, but did not leave. I suspect that he was overwhelmed by obakemono.” She paused, looking at Applebloom, “By which I mean, ghosts.”
“Whoa, spooky!” said Scootaloo, impressed.
“Indeed,” Darlynn replied, “The shrine is overrun by such creatures. We will need to secure each floor one-by-one. In addition, the doors between each level are locked by fiendish puzzles, which will need to be solved before we advance. Doing so will give us access to the next room, and hopefully, reveal a clue to the fate of the Shogun’s deceitful servant. Before we can begin, however, we must…”
Suddenly, a bunch of awesome ninjas jumped out of the trees, attacking the party and ending the stupid tea thing! They were armed with swords and throwing stars and those things that are like two sticks all tied together, and they began a vicious assault on the heroes. Killthrust drew his sword, bravely defending his comrades.
“Ambush!” he shouted, “To arms, warriors!”
“What in Equestria do you think you’re doing?” cried Rarity, yanking the DM screen away from Rainbow Dash.
“I’ll tell you what I’m not doing,” Dash retorted, attempting to grab it back, “I’m not sitting around for hours drinking fancy tea and yakking about… stuff!”
“Please stop fighting…” said Fluttershy, too quietly to get the dueling DMs’ attentions.
The CMC watched the developing argument with interest, their eyes following the DM screen as both ponies tried to claim possession of it. It wasn’t a game, but at least it was entertainment.
“I’ve worked too hard on this to let you ruin it!” Rarity continued.
“You shoulda worked harder at not making it boring!” Dash snapped back at her.
“You had your chance, don’t mess up mine!”
“I don’t need to! You were taking forever to go nowhere!”
“It’s called setting a scene, you… you barbarian!”
“Would you two look at yourselves?” Applejack interjected, “You’re both acting like a couple a’ foals!”
“Me?” Rarity said incredulously, “If anyone is acting foalish it’s…”
The doorbell rang. Rarity and Dash stopped their struggle, looking at the door in confusion. It rang again, frantically, as if someone were leaning on the button.
“Twilight?” said Rarity, concern edging into her voice, “You weren’t expecting more visitors today, were you?”
Applejack gulped. “You don’t think it could be… you know…” She made her eyes go askew.
Twilight shrugged. “It’s the weekend, so I don’t think she’d be doing her rounds. Still…”
The ringing continued unabated. Twilight got up and nervously approached the library’s entrance. Whoever was ringing the bell switched to pounding angrily at the door. Before Twilight could reach it, the door was forced wide open, slamming against the library wall. Lightning crashed in the sky, casting a terrifying silhouette in the doorframe.
“You…” it said in a deep, furious voice. It stepped forward into the light, revealing a shaggy mass of pink hair, dripping from the rain. “You... were having a party! Without me!” Pinkie Pie glared angrily at the gathered ponies. “I can tell, you know. My party sense was tingling! Oh, hey, are we gaming again?” Pulling a characteristic emotional one-eighty, Pinkie Pie shook herself off, transferring most of the rainwater to Twilight. Before anyone could object she zipped over to the rug, hip-checking Dash and Rarity out of the way.
“I’ve been wanting to try this forever!”