All character rights reserved by their owners. All rights to game concept of Halo copyrighted to Bungie.
Two more days of training passed by, with Twilight's new tactics being implemented. Glorious, as the team's best sniper, had volunteered to play as Split Screen for these demonstrations, and had been subsequently killed by each of the other eleven players multiple times. The strategy was simple, but never failed.
A three-way pincer attack. Stealth Bomber and Balloonatic would hide at the beginning of a match while Inferno, Bluebox, and Glorious collected long-range spells and formed a triangle in the sniper's nest at the centre. Blackjack, Aegis, and Thor would then guard the respawn points for any ranged spell with Concussion Pulses and Laser Horns. Acting as suppressing fire, NightMare, Lilac, and Soundwave would gather rapid-fire spells and lead the march on Split Screen's last ID'd location, with Rainboom drawing his fire in case of returned spellcasting. It was a brilliantly assembled plan, with an almost guaranteed victory. Split Screen would either be shredded by the assault squad, blown up by Balloonatic and Bomber, or cut through by the sniping trio. The only difficulty was finding Split Screen, but with twelve radar-charm equipped ponies across the map, he would certainly be spotted.
Six hours to go until the match began.
Three hours to go.
Sixty minutes to go.
The match began, interestingly, with diplomacy.
Thirteen unicorns stood on a lone cliff. Twelve faced one, a stallion in the lightest of armor painted the darkest of colours. His back was to the cliffside, and the mob made an impassable wall. A group of three white unicorns, Soundwave, Glorious, and Aegis, all had their horns pointed at his faceplate, but a lilac mare came in front of them.
The stallion in question gave a barking laugh into his headset. A black speaker appeared on everypony's screen and a menacingly deep, creaky voice began speaking. "Commander Laser Lilac, team leader of the Elemental Forces and also of your newest little alliance. I see your green friend there gave you my offer?"
"Yes. We wouldn't be here if we didn't agree to this fight. Tell me, do you honestly believe you can beat all twelve of us when this little truce times out?"
"I know I can. I'm the best player there is."
Blackjack stepped forward to Lilac's side. "Y'know, somepony with yer kinda skill oughta lead a team, not do everything alone."
"Applejack the farmer, no? You have pride issues too, so tell me- If you were the absolute best farmer in your family, and the others slowed you down, would you accept their workloads on the grounds that it would make the farm more efficient? It would surely mean more stress on you, but it would fill that pride to new heights. Would you repeat your little Applebucking Season escapade and prove you're the best, even at a cost to yourself?"
Applejack and Big Macintosh were at a loss for words.
"That is what I do. I have no need of teammates, as they are a liability. Spell-shields, that's all they're for. I do not miss. I do not die. By being alone, I have become the one-stallion team that can beat any opposition. The truce ends in five minutes, my little ponies. I recommend you prepare."
A tertiary spell, the Solar Flare, burst onto everypony's screen as Split Screen leapt from the cliff face, landing neatly on a rock just a few centimetres short of the damaging-fall zone. The white unicorns above reflexively sprayed Rapid-fire Round spellfire everywhere in the blinding light, but not a single green blast struck the vanishing stallion. Once the Flare had dissipated, Lilac turned and rallied her troops. "Now, what have we learned by analyzing what Split Screen said?"
Soundwave's chat icon appeared on their screens. "That all he cares about is himself?"
"That he knows exactly what he's doing?" offered Bluebox.
"That he knows who Ah am?" said Blackjack.
"Correct! All correct! He has no compassion or teamwork, so we can beat him with group attacks like the pincer plan. He can't snipe on all sides. Furthermore, we know he fights honourably, and his skills are not boasts. He can do anything in this game, and he knows it, so he's letting us arm ourselves as a challenge. Thus, we can't underestimate him. Finally, he's smart. He psyched out Blackjack, who normally can't be rattled by an earthquake. He's going to expect a method like ours, so be careful. Let's gather our spells, and get into position for the triple-pincer. Move out!"
Balloonatic's speaker appeared on everypony's screen, save Split Screen, and she took a deep breath.
"Oh, laser beams are flying past,
and all our friends are dying fast!
It's a dozen-to-one, it's not a fair fight,
But it's probably us who'll have to say go-"
"Pinkie! This is no time for a song!"
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Bluebox, how long has it been since the truce started?"
"Uh, thirteen minutes, forty-eight seconds, Commander."
Lilac looked at her squads. The snipers were safely nestled in various shelters. The two other hoof-soldiers brought their Ear-Piercers and Heat Rays to bear. The stealthy pair was safely hidden, wherever they were. Agent Rainboom was ready to break cover and draw fire. The guards were already monitoring the two orange books for any disturbances. All eyes were on Bluebox.
"Six... five... four... three... two... one... GO GO GO!"
The truce ended, and everypony took one pace forwards before Lilac keeled over, her skull pierced through by a ray of orange. Aegis heard the death, and quickly took over.
"Glorious, counter-fire!" A trio of blasts of light shot toward the origin of the fatal spell, a perfect row of death frying the general area that had just been Split Screen's shelter. In the real world, Twilight smirked, and set her controller on the floor. All had gone exactly as she had planned. Chop off the serpent's head, and the body will die, huh? You'll find we're no snake, Split Screen; I hate snakes. I was prepared for this.
Aegis, the second in command of the whole affair, began turning left and right, anxious to spot the stallion in black. His radar-charm was a swarm of blue crosses, with three moving to where their target had fired from. "Rainboom, take control of the grounders. Blackjack, Thor, any sign of Split Screen?"
"Good. Glorious, enemy in sight?"
"No, not yet. I thought I saw him just past that rock- there!"
Two beams of light flashed behind Split Screen as he ran, leaping over a rock and ducking a wave of Ear-Piercer fire. He hadn't expected a dual attack, but this wasn't the same as being unprepared for it. He looked through his equipment. One Bird's Eye, missing one charge. Two pamphlets of every type except fireballs. One Super-Jump Pad scroll. All he needed for the new move he'd developed. He jumped above the rock and deployed his trap as another wave of spikes passed overhead. All eyes were on him; nopony noticed the Jump-Pad scroll enscribed on the floor in front of the rock.
Good a time as any to try this out, he thought, casting one of the pamphlets into the Pad's area of effect. A jelly-bomb spell launched high into the sky, aimed to sail over the heads of the snipers. From her end, Glorious could see the genius plan failing. "Hold, everypony, he aimed it wrong! Split Screen missed!" The stallion in black laughed at her cheer, aiming his horn on the centre of the jelly-bomb as it began to approach them. A beam of light struck through the gooey magical mass, detonating it as it passed between the triad of snipers, blowing them from their respective perches and crushing them on the rocks far, far below.
Soundwave had seen the whole thing unfold. "Oh, snap! He shot an auxiliary in the flippin' air to blow it up, and knock them into death-by-falling territory! Guys, we are seriously outclassed here! I-I'm gettin' out"
"Hold on there, Soundwave! What happened?"
"Aegis, you didn't see it? Bluebox, Inferno, and Glorious just got tanked with one shot! Split Screen threw a jelly-bomb into a Jump Pad, and the thing went flyin'! Then, he shot it! He totally zapped the thing as it sailed over the sniper's heads and holy hay he's right in FRONT OF ME!" Soundwave tried to move, but she was too absorbed in the game to even twitch. Split Screen drew closer, stepping over the silently killed body of NightMare and brandishing a Laser Horn. Aegis could see her panicking from his small guard station.
Vinyl reflexively slammed her hooved into both sockets, firing metal spikes straight at the black monster. He jumped over the spray, swerving lightly to land beside her and run her through. In the real world, Shining Armor facehoofed twice. The snipers and now all the stormtroopers were gone. The stealth force, Rainboom, and the guards were all that remained.
"Hey, where is Rainboom?" Aegis quickly opened a private chat with her, and regretted it. "He's going to find me he's going to find me he's going to find me..."
"Agent Rainboom, focus! I see the stealth troops near you. Run right and weave around the cliff. No sniper can make that shot. While you do that, I'll lead Bomber and Balloonatic around- I can see Split Screen from here, but I can't make the shot." He leapt from the window of his station, ducking behind a rock and watching Split Screen's movements. The darker stallion stood absolutely stock-still, making Aegis wish he had taken the spellbook with him. Without warning, Split Screen jumped back as an auxiliary fireball passed under him, making its way into the side of a stone. Dual-cast Heat Rays landed all around him, the distinctive indigo flares forming patterns around him. Criss-cross. Figure of eight. A lightning bolt. No matter what array of energy assaulted him, Split Screen always ducked or hopped through unscathed. Eventually, Rainboom's spells ran out of power, and nopony had the range to take him down. Unless...
"Blackjack, got a bead on him?"
"Sure do, taking 'im out now."
Another beam of orange light burst from the bulky-suited unicorn's horn, aimed straight for the head of Split Screen, who ducked at the right time. Rainboom had stepped back to throw an auxiliary, and Split Screen didn't have time to aim in the craggy cliff, instead opting for ducking the projectile. Completely by chance, he dodged the beam, which settled for Rainboom's head instead of his own, killing her instantly. Once again, Applejack and Big Macintosh were speechless.
"Sorry there, Dash..."
Split Screen turned, impressed that a shot nearly struck him. His decrepit voice was more horrifying now that there was cheer in it. "Well done, my country bumpkins, well done! You nearly had me on a platter there! When I kill you, I'll make sure to do it in a fun way, a way fitting for apples..."
"An' what's that?"
Another Jump-Pad, picked up from who-knows-where, hit the ground, launching Split Screen's auxiliary fireball plucked from somepony's corpse straight in the aperture Blackjack had fired from. The condensed magic filled the tiny room with fire and brimstone, melting the shields and armor of the two occupants.
A pink speaker appeared on his screen, and laughter filled his headset. "Heeheehee! That was funny, 'cause, 'cause... roasted apples! Hahaha!"
"Yes, Balloonatic, I'm sure they understood the irony. Now, where are you?"
"I can't tell you that, silly! If I tell you, you'll come find us and put holes in our heads!"
"Well... I suppose that's true. What about you, Stealth Bomber? Or you, Aegis? I know you're behind me. I've been watching you since you jumped from your post."
The white unicorn froze in his tracks. He was almost close enough to run Split Screen through, but the fact that he was aware of it shattered Aegis' plans.
He knows! I could step forward and slash him, but he'll probably dodge and headshot me! Or, or maybe he has traps set up around himself, so he can't be snuck up on! Maybe... "Captain Shining Armor, it's so unlike you to freeze up in a sticky situation. I have an idea; why not have an honourable duel? You and me, Laser Horns, now? The sound effects tell me you have one, and I always keep one as my reserve spell. Shall we?"
The black stallion spun in place, a forked blade of white light springing from his horn. Aegis leapt back, drawing his own spell onto the point of his horn. White and Black walked around in a circle, each mimicking the moves of the other. One jumped left; his counterpart jumped right. I can block his swings well enough... maybe the girls will get the picture and attack from behind? Shining Armor was sweating in the real world. This match was of epic proportions, the perfect way to finish off his foe. Deciding to risk it, he stepped forward and swung. Split Screen sidestepped, still not attacking. The energy on his horn hummed with every step as Aegis slashed and cut at him. Not one strike landed on the stallion in black, however. The duo continued the dance around the field, every thrust, lunge, and chop narrowly avoided. Split Screen timed his next move perfectly, jumping back and alighting on a rock.
"Excellent work there, Aegis. I see you deserve your spot on the list, as you are the first player I've ever killed who took more than one attack."
Aegis' horn fell once more, dodged again by Split Screen, who quickly got behind him and tapped his controller's red button. Aegis' entire forcefield depleted from the kick, jarring his camera. As his view shook, Aegis got a good view of the corner of the arena. In the corner under his spell name, he saw a pink blur flash behind a rock, followed by a pale yellow unicorn laden with explosive spells. Shining Armor smirked. At least I distracted him, he thought, as the camera changed to a view of his character being slashed nearly open. A crackling bass voice came on the magical airwaves to his headset, and his alone.
"As I said, two attacks. Let's hope those two on the cliff there aren't so lucky."
Shining Armor groaned.
Balloonatic was worried. The current statistics showed that all ten of her allies beyond Stealth Bomber were dead, and as usual, respawns were disabled. She turned to her butter-coloured companion.
"Fluttershy? If we don't make it out of this alive..."
"Yes, Pinkie? Uh, Balloonatic, sorry..."
"I just want you to know..."
"I'm the one who broke your birdhouse at the Arbor Day party."
Stealth Bomber was stunned by the sheer irrelevance of the comment. Indeed, so stunned she almost missed the fireball coming from the corner. Thinking quickly, she bucked Pinkie's avatar over the edge of the cliff face they stood on. Stealth Bomber was immolated immediately, but Balloonatic escaped only slightly harmed. Split Screen stood on top of the burning unicorn, laughing into his microphone. "My, my, how perfect! The element of Kindness sacrifices herself just to buy her friend a few more seconds of virtual life! Who else would do that? Balloonatic, I'm so touched by this, I'm going to give you fifteen seconds to attack me however you wish, no spells returned."
Balloonatic sprang from her crouch, her head poking up over the rock she had slid behind. "Really? That's awful nice of you! Be right up there!"
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
The fifteen seconds had broken into five minutes as each player anulled the agreement, settling instead for scrambling for spells to use. Each had a full array of spells, pamphlets, and tertiary scrolls, and a massively open plateau was chosen as their battleground. Much as he had done with Aegis, Split Screen trotted in a circle, with Balloonatic copying his moves. Their equipment choices were radically different than what they typically used. Split Screen swayed side to side, the tip of his horn radiating red and black light indicative of the Hyper Beam. For a reserve, he could always fall back on the Laser Horn. Balloonatic, less concerned with how her stats would look, had gone with an old tactic, combining the Heat Ray with the Ear-Piercer for the perfect damaging device, but she had plenty of other tricks up her gauntlet.
Split Screen was the first to strike as the second duel commenced, leaping to the edge of the plateau and charging the Hyper Beam. The pony behind the controller was sweating. If this shot didn't connect, there would no longer be a 100% accuracy record, in addition to losing the all-important one-hit, one-kill record to Aegis. Balloonatic saw the beam charging and opened fire, sending indigo beams and metal slivers foward in a hurricane of death. Split Screen dropped to the side and ran headlong in a circle, Balloonatic's projectiles always scraping the point he was just ahead of. One or two came so close to the thin armor he thought they'd hit. With Balloonatic on the offensive, Split Screen performed his best dodges and swerves, avoiding the hail of irradiated steel that threatened to consume him. Soon enough, Pinkie's energy bars both read empty. Split Screen gave a mocking laugh.
"Tired already, sugar fiend? Then just stand still so I can end this!" His horn began glowing as the Hyper Beam charged, and Balloonatic's spells were drained. "Plan B time!"
The Hyper Beam rocketed forward, straight into the path of Pinkie's jelly-bomb. Both unicorns were caught with the fringe of the explosion, but the beam had dissipated upon contact with the explosive. Split Screen and Balloonatic skidded back, each missing one quarter of their shields.
"You! You ruined my record! I swear, yours will be the most undignif- Oh, hay..."
Ballonatic's horn shimmered with olive light as she ran up to Split Screen, whose spell was still recharging. "See ya later!" Pinkie yelled into her headset as the Magic Missile launched at near point-blank range.
A pink unicorn corpse blew off the side of the plateau, and the wreckage of Split Screen's last-second Deployable Shield sputtered sparks. But he was alive. Balloonatic's suicide attack had failed, and although Split Screen was, for the first time, unshielded, his ace-in-the-hole had worked. The explosive shot had destroyed the shield the second it appeared, but enough force had been absorbed by it to render it nonlethal. He laughed as the final scores appeared, showing every member of Lilac's brigaid killed; one, even, by friendly fire. Although his one-hit-kills and times-unharmed counters were now 99%, Split Screen was delighted to see that Balloonatic's jelly-bomb was a valid target, keeping his accuracy at a level 100%.
"That was close. Balloonatic, we really must have another fight like that. Bring along Aegis, NightMare, and Laser Lilac next time. The four of you versus me. I think that's the only appropriate challenge. Weren't so many of your friends just... liabilities?" The chat turned to open mode. "Lilac, I'm impressed. You likely knew I'd kill you first, and had your strategy hinge on it, right?"
There was no response, as Twilight had left her game running while fixing a snack. Split Screen continued regardless. "Silence, Ms. Sparkle? Very well. Aegis, you and NightMare are listening, right?"
"Yes, we are. We can't get out of the menu until everyone stops chatting."
"Good; a captive audience. You four against me for our next game, alright?"
"We accept! Thou shall face wrath unparalleled for our defeat!"
"Oh, spare me. You four versus me, two days from now, one o'clock p.m. Best get practicing."
[Player SPLIT SCREEN signed out]
To be concluded...