Candy Cane had finally calmed down, and so High Tide and her were roaming the streets again. This wasn't to say she wasn't still angry. Far from it in fact. But Tide had decided that if they stayed in the meeting room for too much longer, Candy Cane would run out of things to break. As it was, the final loses included the table, seven of the chairs, over half of the flooring tiles, and most of the lights. Vaguely worried that he might be the next on the list of things to break, he suggested a walk. And so out they went, before anypony could come in and see the destruction, and force them to get replacements.
"Today is so boring," Candy Cane was, unsurprisingly, complaining. "Are you sure I can't annoy the players even a little?"
"No? So you're not sure? So I can annoy the players?"
"Hooves off means hooves off. No annoying."
"But there's nothing else to do! What do they expect us to do if not hassle?"
It was a good question. If there was a game on, all Reapers were expected to be working, whether that be maintaining walls or hassling players. But with the order to stand down, only the wall reapers had something to do. It wasn't entirely unprecedented, sure. But in previous games when a stand down order came, it was usually only for a day, not two. It was also usually on the final day, when the Game Master had the chance to fight the players themself. So what was different about this time?
"Hey Tide, can we go to Central Park?" Candy Cane asked, her voice dripping innocence. It was enough of a change to startle Tide back to alertfulness.
"Because that's where the players are."
"Aww come on! I won't hurt them! I just want to watch?"
High Tide narrowed his eyes. "Really."
"Really! Would I lie to you?"
"Daily." Still, High Tide saw little harm in it. He was confident that he would be able to restrain Candy if he needed to, and it would hopefully get her to shut up for a bit. "Fine. But no interfering."
"Yay! Thank you Tide!" Tide found himself in the grips of a hug before he could react. He pried Candy off him before she could choke him.
The two flew to the park, Tide with his natural wings and Candy with her Reaper wings, one of the perks of the job for non-pegasi. There were walls all around Central Park to keep the players in so they had to alight outside the boundaries. Of course, Tide could have cleared a wall long enough for them to get in, but he neglected to mention that fact. There was a lot he neglected to mention to Candy Cane. It made life simpler.
"Oh come on!" Candy Cane was back to complaining. “Why can't we get in? We can't see anything from out here!"
High Tide shook his head. "Not true. Look." He indicated a point just beyond the wall. As they watched a group of ponies came rushing out, screaming.
"Help!" "The park is cursed!" "Help!" "The park is haunted!" "For the love of Celestia, somepony help!" Before long the group had vanished from sight, still screaming. Candy Cane glared.
"That hardly counts!"
High Tide continued to gaze beyond the wall. Just beyond he could spy several players, each with their own unique mental signature. The player pins they held blocked telepathy, but being a reaper conferred certain advantages. Mind reading was still impossible, but a reaper could locate and even recognise players by their signatures, while a player could detect absolutely nothing. Tide hadn't bothered to learn many of the player's signatures this time, having not had much contact with the players outside of the ones erased shortly afterwards. Yet as he watched, one of the players stood out. He recognised her. Well, that was certainly interesting. If Candy behaved herself this afternoon, he might even tell her.
It was times like this Pinkamena missed her entry fee. By all rights she should have been having a great time. Ignoring for a second that she was fighting for her life, she was outdoors, hanging out with her friends -well, a friend anyway- and pranking almost every pony she came across. It was only about fifty cupcakes away from a Pinkie Pie Perfect day. And that was the problem. She just wasn't Pinkie right now. Well that wasn't quite true. She was Pinkie, but only half of her. The side that occasionally rose to give voice to niggling doubts, like what had happened on her last birthday. The half normally kept in check by her love of life. But right now, she didn't have that side, giving her more cynical side free reign.
Like right now for example. It was only an hour into the day, and Pinkamena already felt like they had almost half of the park cleared. That combined with the glaring absence of reapers made her suspicious. She wondered if they were planning a trap two days in a row. It was the sort of thing they might do, but at the same time it seemed unlikely. So really it was a 50/50 chance. Remembering Twilight's reaction from yesterday, Pinkamena had planned on airing her concerns with her....
"Yes! Yes! Run From the spoooooky ghosts of the park!"
...at a time when she wasn't having so much fun perhaps. Nevertheless, soon. Yesterday was actually a good example of her missing her entry fee. Normal Pinkie wouldn't have stepped back and let the trap unfold. She would have warned every pony, and ensured as few ponies as possibly had been erased. She had partially repented for that by helping erase the Ursa noise, but Pinkamena didn't feel like that was enough.
"Pinkamena? You feeling okay over there? You've been quiet for a while now," Twilight said.
"Huh? Oh, yeah, I'm all peaches and gravy," she responded. "Actually, not really. Can we take a break for a short while?"
"Sure. Something on your mind?"
"Yes actually." The pair wandered over to the shade of a tree close to the park's edge and sat down. "So, what's on your mind?" Twilight asked.
"Well, you know how yesterday turned out to be a trap and I said nothing?"
"You think today might be a trap as well?"
"I think it's a possibility. It just seems a bit easy, that's all."
"Maybe, but I don't think so in this case. I think what's more likely is that the reapers need a rest as much as we do from yesterday. After all, summoning that many noise must be almost as tiring as fighting them."
Pinkamena thought on this for a bit. "So you think today is a chance for us to catch our breath?"
"Well yeah. I mean, once we figured out what to do today, it really wasn't that hard. By my estimation we're down to about twenty five percent of the original number of ponies in this park, and we've hardly used any of the time we got given."
That was exactly the reason Pinkamena thought it might be a trap, but she hadn't considered the idea that maybe the reapers needed a day to recuperate. "How do you figure twenty five percent?"
"At a rough estimate. We started in a fairly densely populated area, at a guess I'd say half of all the ponies in the park would be there. I counted about sixty ponies there, so roughly a hundred and twenty total. Since starting we have chased out about forty two ponies, counting the ponies other pairs working in this area have chased out. If we assume the others are only managing about half that at each end, owing to the areas being less populated, that still adds up to another forty two or so. So that's eighty four ponies chased out. If we take my assumption of a hundred and twenty to be right, that means we've chased out seventy percent of the ponies, or almost three quarters, so only a quarter, or twenty five percent left. And you didn't follow a word of that did you?"
"You did something with numbers and then more numbers happened. That's all I know. Math may as well be another type of magic for all I understand it."
"Well it was all as accurate as you can expect me to be under these conditions. So we probably don't have long before the mission is cleared. I'd say maybe ten, twenty minutes? Thirty at most."
"Really? So soon?" If Twilight was right, the they would have completed the mission in less than half the time they had available. "See, that's why it has to be a trap. We were given four hours. If it was meant to be this easy we would have only been given two hours."
"But then it wouldn't have been easy. I never thought I'd say this to anypony, but you're over thinking this. The challenge in today would have been figuring out how to proceed, and it just so happens we figured that out quickly."
"Well, if you're right, then does that mean we can rest for a while longer? Just in case something does happen."
Twilight smiled. "That's fine, I was hoping for some spare time. I wanted to look at those walls again."
"Well just stay alert. If it is a trap I don't want you taken unaware."
"Don't worry, I'll be fine." And with that Twilight trotted off to the edge of the park.
Twilight closed her eyes and sent a magic pulse into the wall. As before, she had difficulty making out any discernable pattern to the leylines. But if she activated her player pin at the same time as she sent out the pulse, she got a much clearer view. Unlike the wall two days ago, the one surrounding the park had a different design. In fact, it was a much larger wall as well, covering the entirety of one edge of the park. It was too large to get a clear look at the whole pattern, but from the section in front of Twilight she could make out the letters '...AYER AC....'
What does that mean? Twilight wondered. She strolled along the wall for a short way, making sure to keep Pinkamena in sight. Eventually, satisfied that she had gone far enough, she sent another pulse through the wall. This time she saw the letters "NO PLAY..." At the bottom of the N, a single leyline trailed off and came to an end at about head height. Ah-ha, that must be where the seal started. Twilight tried to remember how the reaper from the second day had cleared the wall. In that case it was a heart shape with two ponies inside it, but the principle had to be the same. He had started from a similar point, and loosed his magic into it, and the leylines had receded, making the invisible barrier vanish. Well if he can do it, so can I!
Making sure she could still see Pinkamena, Twilight wandered over to the sealing point. Feeling a bit foalish, she pressed her horn against the wall where it was. Okay, now what? Twilight sent out one more sensor pulse to see if she could detect any magical residue that might give her a hint of what spell to use. A short while later, Twilight realised doing this right next to a large source of magic was the thaumaturgic equivalent of staring directly at the sun. From her new position on her back she rubbed her horn, which felt like a million tiny pins were being stuck into it. After quickly making sure she still had her magic, she stood up again. She now stood a few feet away from the wall.
Okay, not trying that again. Other than causing pain, the pulse found nothing. No residual traces of magic, no further hints as to what she should do. Temporarily flummoxed, Twilight decided to wander the other way to try and piece together what the wall said. She trotted back to where she had started, then went the same distance the other way. Activating her magic this time took a bit longer, but once she managed to send a pulse, she read the letters ....CCESS". Mentally she compressed the letters. NO PLAY...AYER AC...CCESS... NO PLAYER ACCESS. Well that's unhelpful. I already knew that.
Acutely aware that time was running out, and that this might be her last shot to figure out how the walls worked, Twilight made her way back to the sealing point. She tried to remember the painfully few facts she knew about the walls. They're meant to stop player access. Some of them will be opened by reapers once players have done a task. Both of the ones I've really looked at have had different patterns. "Argh, it's no good! I need more information! Two data points a reliable conclusion does not make! Okay, calm down Twilight. There must be something I've missed."
Once more Twilight scanned the wall for a clue. Finally she noticed something. The letters making up the central leyline for this wall, they looked like the kind that were summoned with an air-writing spell. And when she thought back to it, the other wall looked like it could have been a product of the same sort of spell. Twilight was suddenly struck with an idea. What if these walls are the product of not one, but two spells working concordantly? If somepony was to combine a barrier spell with an air-writing spell...
There was a tingly sensation in Twilight's hoof. She checked, and found the timer had vanished. The mission was finished. Now more than ever she was on a time limit. "Okay, I've only got one shot at this...." If the wall was made with a spell combination, then that had to be the solution as well. Hurrying, Twilight approached the sealing point. Pressing her horn once more against the wall, she started drawing the power she needed to perform a dispel. Once she had enough power, she prepared her second spell, the air-writing spell. This one was ready very quickly, which was good. Now was the hard part. First she activated the air-writing spell, carefully tracing over the leylines. After a short delay, she released the dispel, carefully controlling it to follow the path traced by her first spell. With as much haste as she dared, Twilight finished tracing the NO PLAYER ACCESS lines. A second later the dispel reached the end as well.
Twilight took a tentative step forward. No barrier blocked her path. She took another. Still nothing. And then everything went black.