DAY 1: 1
Manehatten, the big orange. It was often said if you could make it here, you could make it anywhere. And ponies took this advice to heart, traveling from all across Equestria to this fabled city in search of a new start, a new hope, the Equestrian dream. Some came only for a visit, some stayed longer.
It was a hub of activity, the centre of town playing host to so many ponies that carriages were banned, or else risk hitting some pony. There wasn't a time of day where the streets weren't crowded, ponies trotting in all directions, unable to spare time to slow down and smell the roses.
It was in this centre that a certain purple unicorn currently lay, unconscious. The crowds walked around her, forming a gap in the crowd that would be obvious to the casual observer. But there were no casual observers seeking such patterns. And no pony stopped to check if the mare was okay, simply acting as if she wasn't there. With good reason.
Slowly, Twilight Sparkle opened her eyes, eyelids heavy as if waking from a deep sleep. Her head was pounding, and she stared uncomprehendingly into the middle distance.
"Urgh, my head... Spike! Can you get me some coffee?" Twilight looked around, still not seeing the obvious. She began to close her eyes again, still sleepy, and it was now that she noticed something was wrong. Her eyes snapped open, her mind instantly focusing.
"Wha- what am I doing here?" she asked of no one in particular. The crowd continued to ignore her as she stood up, still confused. She looked around. "This is Manehatten isn't it? What was I doing passed out on the pavement? Last thing I remember I was... argh." The headache was back again, bringing an end to that train of thought. Twilight lowered her head, trying to will the pain away. Unsurprisingly it didn't work, although it did lessen in intensity.
With her head down, Twilight noticed something else unusual. She was wearing a sash that went around her neck, behind her front left leg and back around over her back. An extra oddity was the pin that was attached, an unusual design that resembled a pony skull from head on. Trying to angle the sash to better see the pin, Twilight accidentally tapped the pin with her hoof. And a cacophony of voices in her head broke out.
Somewhere not too far away, a pink blur rushed through an alleyway. Every now and then she glanced behind her. "Good, still no sign of them." She burst out of the alleyway, and with a final glance behind her, paused for breath. She pushed her pink mane out of her eyes, scanning the crowd for some familiar face. She wasn't sure why she was here, but the last thing she could remember was that she was with her friends. So if she was here, they must be too. And they'd be confused, disoriented, and worst of all, in danger. The earth pony couldn't bear the thought of losing any of her friends, so she had to find them quickly. Any of them, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity or Fluttershy. They would be able to get through this if they just stuck together. And then maybe they'd give her back.
A sudden magical flare interrupted her though process. In front of her, a scroll materialised, as if sent by way of dragon magic. The pony stared at it as it began to unroll itself. No, not now! It's too soon, I haven't found anyone yet!
Twilight couldn't help herself. She screamed, trying to hear herself over the noise in her head. She tried covering her ears with her hooves, but the noise continued unhindered. What kind of sound could penetrate a mind without going through the ears?
Thankfully the noise was beginning to lessen, or possibly Twilight was learning to ignore it. She uncovered her ears, but slowly, just in case that was somehow the cause of the voices getting quieter. This wasn't the case, and the sounds reached the level of a background din, not much louder than your usual crowd. But as Twilight looked around, certain words and phrases became clearer.
I hope my wife is making daffodil soup for dinner tonight....
Oh, how am I going to tell her? I don't even know if she likes other fillies...
Oh my gosh, was that... Sapphire Shores? No wait, that's not right, she's on tour in Canterlot right now...
Twilight looked around in amazement. Were those thoughts? Was I hearing pony's thoughts? But how can that be? Twilight took a deep breath. She just had to think about this rationally. She hadn't been hearing thoughts until she had tapped that pin she was wearing. So what did that mean? Had that pin allowed her to read minds? But how did that work exactly? Surely that kind of power would be concealed in something mystic gemstone, not a small piece of metal.
Another thought came to Twilight. I've been standing here, freaking out, even screaming, and yet no pony has even turned to look at me. With her new psychic powers, she quickly looked through some other ponies' minds. None of them even seem to be registering me. What's going on? Am I invisible?
As if there weren't enough mysteries to be solved, another one chose that moment to show up. A scroll, like the kind Twilight received from the Princess, appeared out of thin air. But instead of falling to the ground like a normal scroll, this one hovered in the air in front of Twilight and unrolled itself.
"Mission 1: Reach Bits n' Bobs," Twilight read aloud. "You have sixty minutes. Failure will result in erasure. The Reapers. Well what the hay does that mean? Where did this scroll even come from? Magical scroll transmission requires a dragon on at least one end, and a bond between the ponies contacting each other. You can't just send random scrolls like this!"
Twilight's thought process was derailed but a sudden, sharp pain near her right hoof. She raised it to eye level, trying to find the source of the pain. She was not prepared for what she found. Just above her hoof, as if tattooed there, was a timer. And as she watched, the time ticked down. 59:51, 59:50, 59:49....
It was too much for Twilight. She had to be dreaming. Mind reading, unsolicited scrolls, ticking time tattoos? None of that could possibly exist, could it? This being a dream was the only explanation that made sense. Although Twilight remembered a lesson learned not too long ago, about how just because she couldn't explain something didn't mean it couldn't be....
That thought got no further before Twilight was knocked off her feet. Whatever had hit her had enough force to send her flying a short distance. Thankfully she hit the pavement without receiving any damage. She looked up at whoever it was that had run into her. "Are you okay? I'm sorry I was in your way, but why are you.... Pinkie?"
The pony that had collided with her was the spitting image of Pinkie Pie. Pink coat, balloon cutie mark.... the only difference was her mane. Where Pinkie's mane was fluffy and untamed, this pony's mane lay flat and straight. Still, the resemblance was uncanny.
"Ow... wait a minute. I ran into you? You must be a player then!" The voice even sounded similar. Maybe she was a relative of Pinkie Pie's? The pink pony looked behind her, as if being chased by something. "Great. I had hoped to find one of my friends before this happened, but I guess I have no choice."
"Um, excuse me? You're not making any sense." Yet another way the two were similar. "Player? Before what happened?"
The mare looked confused. "You mean you don't know? Okay, I'll explain. You see..."
A scream pierced the air behind them. The Pinkie Pie look-a-like jumped in the air. "Horse apples! Okay, no time for explanation now then. We need to make a pact, quick!"
"A pact? What do you mean, I don't unders-"
"I said explanations later! Just say I accept! Say it!"
The expression on the pony's face was beginning to scare Twilight. "O-ok. I accept?"
A blinding light emanated from the ground around them. Twilight winced, and had to close her eyes. When she opened them again she looked around for the other pony. She was facing away from Twilight now, crouched in what could ostensibly be called a battle stance.
"What are you-?"
"No time, explanations later. Noise are coming."
Twilight blinked. "Okay, firstly, that statement is grammatically incorrect, noise is a singular word, so it should be noise IS coming, and secondly..."
"I said explanations later! We've got a fight coming for us!"
Before Twilight could raise any further objections, a strange red symbol came hurtling into view. Twilight couldn't figure out what it was, but it almost looked like... a frog's head? As it came closer, the symbol seemed to bulge at the middle and expand, unfolding into... a frog? But this was unlike any frog Twilight had ever seen before. It was half the height of a normal pony, and its legs, instead of being fleshed out seemed to be made out of the symbol that it used to be.
"What- what is that?"
"Noise! And now we fight!"
The frog leapt at Twilight. Just before it made contact, there was another flash, and every other pony on the street seemed to vanish. There were now also three frogs rather than just the one.
"Just when I thought I couldn't get any more confused," muttered Twilight. Behind her, the pink pony was charging at another group of three frogs, lashing out at them with a flurry of hooves. She knocked back the group of frogs and looked back at Twilight.
"Don't just stand there! Fight!"
"But how do I do that?"
"I don't know! What pins do you have?"
"What?" Twilight looked down at the black pin on her sash. To her surprise, another one had now joined it, one that looked like a stylised flame. "I've got one that looks like a flame, but how is that important?"
"That one lets you summon fire! Imagine a line of flames going from you towards the Noise, that should activate it!" The strange pony sidestepped just as a frog jumped at her, narrowly avoiding it, then let loose with another flurry of hooves.
Twilight looked back towards her side of the battlefield just in time for a frog to leap onto her face. Panicking, she somehow managed to imagine the frog catching fire. A spark flared in front of her eyes, and the frog vanished, disintegrating into thin air. Twilight focused more, and a thin column of fire appeared on the ground in front of her. Not entirely certain how she was doing this, she steered the column towards one of the remaining frogs. It tried to jump away, but too late, as it too vanished into nothingness. That left just one frog. Twilight directed the fire towards it, but just before it could engulf the frog, the flames died down.
What's happening? Where's the fire gone? Twilight felt her anxiety levels rise again, and couldn't focus. The frog, sensing an opportunity, leapt at the undefended pony. Twilight closed her eyes, waiting for the blow..... but it never came. Opening her eyes, Twilight saw no frog in sight. She looked behind her to see the pink earth pony also with no enemies in sight.
"Well, that wasn't too bad. I forgot how weak the initial Noise are..." the other pony mumbled, barely audible to Twilight. "Good job over there. Now, the Underground should reassert itself... now."
The scene around them dissolved, and the crowds returned, seemingly from nowhere. Twilight slumped to the ground, heart still racing from the adrenaline. "I don't understand..."
The Pinkie look-a-like came over to her and sat down beside her. "Good, well we're safe for now." She looked at her front-right hoof. "For now anyway. We've still got forty minutes left, so I guess we can do some introductions. My name's Pinkamena Diana Pie. What's yours?"
"Twilight Sparkle." Gears started to turn in Twilight's head. Hadn't Pinkie once told her that her full name was Pinkamena? "Umm... do you normally go by another name? Like, maybe just Pinkie, perchance?"
Pinkamena froze. "No," she eventually managed to say. "That name belongs to somepony else. The question is, how do you know that name? I haven't met you before have I?"
It had to Pinkie. Twilight was sure of it! "You don't recognise me? It's me, Twilight! We both live in Ponyville? We're best friends? How can you forget me?"
Pinkamena shook her head. "Nope, that can't be right. If you were from Ponyville I'd know, because I know just about every pony in...." She trailed off. "No... that's too much like her..."
Twilight was shocked. How could Pinkie not recognise her? And why was she calling herself by her full name? I know, I'll just read her mind. I'll bet this is just another Pinkie Pie prank... a really elaborate Pinkie Pie prank... Twilight focused, shutting out the background noise. But try as she might, she just could read Pinkie's mind. Did I do something wrong? Has my mind reading stopped? Oh listen to me, only twenty minutes ago I had no idea I could read minds, now I'm acting like I could always do it?
"You can't scan other Players Twilight." Pinkamena had figured out what she was up to. "Don't know why, but you just can't."
Twilight let out an exasperated sigh. "There you go, you're using words that don't make sense again! I thought you were going to tell me what's going on here? What am I playing?"
"What are you playing? You're playing the Reaper's Game. Ad if you're playing the Reaper's Game, that can mean only one thing." A rather grim smile appeared on Pinkamena's face.
"You're dead, Twilight Sparkle."