DAY 1: 2
The purple unicorn was lost for words. "Dead? How can we be dead? We're talking, and thinking, and breathing, and those frog things just tried to kill us!"
Pinkamena checked her timer again. Thirty seven minutes. There was still plenty of time to bring her partner up to speed. Besides, there were few things worse than a partner not up to speed. "I'm not going to pretend I understand it, but that's just the way it is. For whatever reason, you and I are dead, and we're here playing this game."
"Game? This is a game? We're dead! How do the words 'dead' and 'game' even fit together in the same sentence?"
"You look like a well read pony, surely you've encountered the story about the Earth Pony who challenged Death to a match of chess for her soul?"
Twilight blinked. "Well yes, but that's just a myth! It can't be true."
"No, but as with all myths, there is an element of truth to it."
"No, this is insane! It's nothing more than an...." Twilight trailed off. "...old pony tale..." She cleared her throat and continued. "Okay, you know what? I believe you."
"Good, that'll make this go faster then. Okay, where do I begin?"
"Well, what about those frog things that attacked us? What was up with that?"
"They were creatures called Noise. The reapers sic them on players to try and stop them from achieving the missions, although now that we've made a pact they won't try and attack us quite like that last set did."
"Reapers? As in more than one?"
Pinkamena sighed. She was clearly going about this the wrong way. "Okay, new plan. Give me ten, maybe fifteen minutes and I'll explain everything. If you still have questions after that, you can ask. Deal?"
Twilight nodded. Taking a deep breath, Pinkamena started her explanation.
"Right, so this is the Reaper's Game, and we're dead. We have seven days of challenges, or missions, and if we survive the seven days, we get a second chance at life. If we don't, we're erased. If we don't complete a mission in the time limit given, we get erased. And as the icing on the cake, we can be erased by Noise. But we have a way to fight back against the noise in the form of those pins we have on our sashes. Each pin unleashes a different psych, a sort of magic. Not every pony can use every psych. If you were to give me your Pyrokinesis pin, I'd be unable to use it.
"To enter this game in the first place you've had to give up what's most valuable to you as an entry fee, to be returned upon your victory. Should you lose, well, you'll have bigger problems.
"Each Player forms a pair with another Player, called a pact. They work together to complete missions and defeat Noise. If one half of a team is erased, the other will follow shortly. So it's in your best interest to make sure I'm every bit as healthy and fit as you are.
"And that pretty much wraps up this chunk of exposition. That covers the basics anyway. Anything you're still confused about?"
"Just two things actually."
Of course there is. I shouldn't have asked. Aloud, Pinkamena said "And they are?"
"Well, you said something earlier about reapers, as in more than one. How is that possible?"
"Oh, that's easy. There's a distinction between reapers and the Reaper. Reapers, the ones we're going to encounter, were once ponies like you or me. They played this game, but when the won they decided to become reapers and help run this game rather than come back to life."
"I see. Last question then. How do you know all this?"
"The better question is how do you not? The reapers normally take a few minutes before the start of a game to explain this. Why haven't they this time?"
"That doesn't answer my question. If they haven't told us this, why do you know it?" Twilight asked.
Pinkamena gave a hollow laugh. "You haven't figured it out? This isn't my first time playing the game."
Once again, Twilight found herself flabbergasted. Pinkie had played this crazy game before? Did that mean she had died before? But how could that be? That's the sort of thing you got told when you were introduced to new ponies. 'Hi, this is Pinkie Pie. She died once before, but she got better.' Then again, it was still possible that this wasn't Pinkie Pie. After all, she didn't recognise Twilight. And Pinkie Pie wasn't the sort of pony to forget any pony.
Pinkamena looked at her timer again. "31:46. Right, since we've used half our time, we'd better get back to the mission. What was it again?"
"Um... Reach Bits n' Bobs. I don't understand though, what is Bits n' Bobs?"
"It's a fashion arcade. All the aspiring fashonistas have set up shop there, hoping that one day that their designs will become popular."
Twilight managed a smile despite the situation. It sounded just like the sort of place Rarity would love. "So, we just need to get there? That sounds easy. Unless it's on the other side of town. Is it? Oh please tell me it isn't on the other side of town."
Pinkamean shook her head. "It isn't on the other side of town. As a matter of fact it's just a short distance that way," she said, gesturing just behind Twilight with her hoof.
"What? You mean we could have finished this mission ages ago? We've been wasting time, let's go!" Twilight cried. She started galloping the way Pinkamena had indicated, and before long she could see a sign looming ahead that read "Bits n' Bobs: Fashion on the go."
"Wait, don't run off yet," Pinkamena yelled from somewhere behind her. "There's something I forgot to mention!"
Twilight turned to look at her partner, but before she could form any words she felt herself hit something. The impact knocked her to the ground, and she lay dazed for a few seconds while Pinkamena caught up to her. She helped Twilight back onto her feet.
"Sorry, forgot to say. Some ways are barred off by invisible walls. Just to make things interesting."
"Barred?" Turning to see what she ran into, Twilight was surprised to see nothing. By all accounts she should have kept running. She tried to continue, but was unable to proceed more than another step before she found herself unable to continue. The air in front of her seemed to shimmer and solidify, blocking her way. "But that's where we need to go! How are we going to complete the mission now?"
Pinkamena didn't seem to be listening, looking around at the crowd. Soon she stopped, and pointed. "You see that pony? The one wearing the red hoodie? Try scanning him." Twilight must have looked confused, because Pinkamena sighed. "Tap the skull pin. That's what lets you read minds, and tap it again to turn it off. Saves a lot of headaches."
Twilight gave the pin a tap with her hoof, and heard all the voices in her head vanish. She realised she'd been scanning, as her partner had called it, all that time. The sudden silence was a bit off putting, and she almost fell to the ground again. She tapped the pin again, and sure enough the voices returned. Glad to understand how the mind reading worked now, she turned her attentions to the hooded pony. She focused, but while she could hear the thoughts of those around him, he remained silent. She tapped her pin again and welcomed the silence.
"I couldn't read his mind?"
Her partner nodded. "There are two types of pony who can't be scanned here: players and reapers. Guess which one he is."
Twilight gasped. "He's a reaper? But he looks just like us."
"I told you, reapers were like us once. Anyway, he's the one who set up this wall. And that means he can take it down again, if we meet his conditions."
"Conditions? What, like a toll guard?"
"Pretty much. But we're not going that way yet. We've got 25 minutes I plan to use them to find my friends." The pink pony turned around and started heading in the opposite direction. Twilight ran to catch up.
"But if we don't clear the mission..."
"If I survive the seven days, that's meaningless if my friends don't as well. So we're gonna find them." She looked over her shoulder at Twilight and sighed. "Don't worry, we'll get the mission done. But my friends come first."
A shrill cry shattered any reply Twilight was trying to come up with. She recognised that scream! So too did Pinkamena it seemed. "Rarity! That's one of my friends! Quickly, this way!" She was off before Twilight could respond. This strange pony knew Rarity? She had to be Pinkie. So why didn't she recognise Twilight? This isn't the time for that, Rarity's in trouble! Twilight dashed towards the source of the cry.