Fearlessly edited by magicllama
Prologue- The Mistake
Because I'm an idiot!
Everypony has an inner good. Everypony has an inner evil. The two halves combine and mold into a pony's true character, influencing both thoughts and actions, whether they realize it or not.
It was to this end that Princess Celestia and Princess Luna cast their attention one ordinary day. The initial concern had been brought about by a discussion of Discord's power over the bearers of the Elements of Harmony. How easy it was for him to manipulate them against each other. While their friendship was powerful enough to triumph in the end, greater threats would surely test that bond even more in the future. There had to be a way to protect them from "virtue fading" as the princesses had come to term it. Some way to prevent color loss, so to speak.
This is where the discussion should have ended. This one pivotal moment before things went spiraling out of control. If they had merely put it off as wishful thinking, they would have continued living in blissful ignorance. Alas, they did not stop.
Instead, Celestia and Luna initiated a full-on research into the matter. After months of diligent searching, they uncovered... curious findings. What sparked these results was a look into Luna's transformation into Nightmare Moon. While the Nightmare was its own entity, it needed a host to truly exist. However, it couldn't possess just any creature.
The reason why the Nightmare preyed upon ponies was due to one crucial factor. Everypony has inherent magic within; the pegasi with flying and weather control, the earth ponies and their special connection to nature, and the unicorns with magic itself. Along with their magic, though, was something much deeper. The princesses discovered that a very small piece of the Nightmare's magic dwelt inside everypony. That was how it was able to overtake Luna, once she gave that magic room to grow.
Discord had tapped into that source with Twilight Sparkle and her friends during his escape. Miraculously, it was only a small fraction, but most certainly would have worsened over time. So if he could have so easily accessed the magic, surely the princesses could do that and more with time and study.
Through that mindset, they asked themselves: 'How can we remove that small portion of the Nightmare without endangering a pony?' While the Elements could vanquish the foe, there was no way to know what would happen to this minor presence. The last time they were used improperly, it had resulted in Princess Luna's imprisonment on the moon.
The research was small at first, but the princesses eventually delved deeper into the ancient arts. They even investigated their past studies and the works of their students, Starswirl the Bearded and Clover the Clever. However, all of this was done in complete secrecy. If somepony were to find out that a piece (albeit a minuscule part) of the Nightmare resided in everypony, there would be absolute panic. Their little ponies were still too innocent and wholly trusted the princesses with their protection. Not even Celestia's own protege was informed of the research.
After months of testing on themselves, extracting the tiniest fractions of the Nightmare, they decided to act more boldly. It was a risky step, but the payoff would most certainly be worth it. Through meticulous planning, a Hearth's Warming Eve pageant invite was sent to the bearers. It was innocent and inconspicuous enough. The Bearers would also be participating in the actual pageant itself. This, however, was all part of the plan.
The princesses observed them both on and off-stage. The stress that Twilight and her friends experienced also showcased the Nightmare's magic that Celestia and Luna were seeking. Even though it was barely noticeable at times, it was definitely present.
Once the pageant was over, the bearers were invited to stay in the castle for the night. The hour was late and they were already exhausted, after all. When all of them had at last succumbed to slumber, the princesses set the final step into motion. They began extracting, very slowly and very carefully, so as to not disturb their rest. The process sapped much of their energy and the procedure took up the entire night with its duration. In the end, the extraction was a success. The bearers would never again be so susceptible to turning against each other. They had nothing to worry about. Or so they thought.
Instead of pieces of armor or inanimate objects that physically manifested from the Nightmare sans host, something else happened. They hadn't expected it at all. Their own research had pointed out that the Nightmare would be powerless. Be it fate or dumb luck, the bearers had left early the next morning before they could see what was left behind. It wasn't till much later when Celestia and Luna found the horrifying results.
The extraction produced exact duplicates of the bearers; their most negative characteristics had been ponyfied. Needless to say, it was an absolute disaster. Though they mirrored their originals in appearance, their personalities didn't even resemble in the slightest. Gone was the innocent friendship and love they shared. The only thing mutual between the duplicates was their hatred.
Needless to say, the princesses were forced to isolate the new ponies in the most secluded and private area under the castle. Too much scandal and chaos would have arisen if anypony discovered them; not to mention the loss of trust and loyalty that would result.
A simple solution would have been to use the Elements of Harmony to vanquish these manifestations of the Nightmare. Or even banish them to the moon. Unfortunately, this wasn't a simple problem. The duplicates still held ties the real bearers. If something drastic was to happen to them, there would be dire consequences to Twilight and her friends. As if that wasn't enough, their own magic couldn't affect these ponies. Thankfully they weren't going anywhere any time soon, but much more research was required.
Imagine the princesses' surprise when the answer literally walked through their front door.
That answer was a lone earth pony stallion. At first glance, he was an ordinary, run-of-the-mill buck. Ash-gray coat, slicked-back white mane, and a pair of dice for a cutie mark. However, the buck was anything but ordinary.
This stallion was born to two cowponies residing in the area that would later become known as Appleloosa. Given the name of Jackpot, his parents raised him just like everypony should; with care, attention, and love. Sadly, tragedy befell the family when a typical train-ride turned into a disastrous accident. The parents' lives were lost when the train skipped the tracks down into a canyon. From witnesses at the scene, the young foal had perished as well. Miraculously, the colt survived; nopony was able to explain how.
What they didn't know about was the extraordinary power that resided within Jackpot. He possessed the ability to manipulate luck. Crazy as that sounded, the princesses were no strangers to the phenomena. Luck, much like magic, is an ever present, ethereal force that flows around ponies. It can be tapped into and used to a pony's benefit. Even though he hadn't known it then, Jackpot had accessed that stream of luck in his time of peril and survived the wreck. Unfortunately, his parents did not.
The young colt was taken under the wing of his uncle, a pegasus who lived nearby and managed a local saloon. Jackpot's uncle did all that he could to help the growing foal, but his business took up much of his time and attention. There wasn't a school nor any young ponies nearby to help entertain or keep him out of mischief. Thus, the growing buck instead learned from the customers and weary travelers that would stop in the saloon. He marveled over their talks of adventure and far-off lands.
It was also from these strangers that he discovered his 'talent.' Along with the bar itself within the saloon, Jackpot's uncle had constructed several playing tables for betting games. It was usually low-stakes as the travelers weren't the most well-off of ponies.
One evening, the players invited Jackpot to play with them instead of just watching. As soon as he touched the dice, the little colt's vision was flooded with cloudy green trails of mist. Jackpot was witnessing luck in its purest form. At first he was startled, but no harm befell him and he hurriedly rolled the dice. The strands of ghostly luck swirled around the dice and conformed them to the colt's desire. The travelers were confounded that whole evening when his rolls would always add up to seven and the little foal continued to win. By late into the night and after earning all of what they were willing to bet, Jackpot discovered both his power over luck and his cutie mark. A pair of dice; one bearing a four, the other a three.
Several years later and after his uncle had passed away, Jackpot decided to travel the world and seek his fortune. His journey took him to far-off lands. Each location he would search for new thrills. With having been raised in a rougher environment, Jackpot didn't care for the sappy 'Happy Valley' syndrome that many villages of Equestria shared. Instead, he purposely sought out the less desirable settlements; be it with the griffins, the zebras, the diamond dogs, and every other tribe out there.
Jackpot's abilities with manipulating luck were not solely restricted to the game of dice, or better known as crapaud throughout Equestria. He enjoyed all forms of betting games. His senses would merge with the ghostly mist in every circumstance and leave him victorious. Suffice to say, Jackpot never lost.
Unfortunately, this had gained him both friends and enemies. The exhilaration of escaping a sore loser thrilled Jackpot, but there had been instances where he was badly wounded before leaving town. With the passing of time came the accumulation of tremendous wealth, better fighting skill from the diamond dogs, and a tougher endurance from the griffins. However, it was all too easy and began to bore the stallion. After a less-than-honorable night of drinking and ranting, a crazy idea struck Jackpot. Why not challenge the princesses of Equestria for the throne? Still very drunk, he rushed to Canterlot and held an audience with them.
The very notion was absolutely absurd and any other time would have been flatly denied. However, Celestia and Luna listened to his tale with earnest intrigue. They could feel something was different about the earth pony. Jackpot omitted his ability and power over luck from the story, but the princesses sensed there was something more to it anyway. Luna accepted his challenge of crapaud as soon as he issued it, worrying Celestia a great deal. There was something that the Princess of the Night had in her favor of course. After all, she invented the game.
The stakes were set: the throne of Equestria versus becoming an operative for the princesses. Jackpot had scoffed at the small price. He didn't care about what that entailed, believing he already won. Luna was very confident as well, but for very different reasons. The earth pony was beyond simply being intoxicated. Each of his steps wobbled slightly as they neared the grand table. Finally, he grabbed the dice quickly and kissed them. With a drunken grin, he boasted that he didn't even need his 'spooky gas'. Confusing the princesses, Jackpot tossed the dice and passed out onto the ground.
If he hadn't been so brash and foolish, perhaps Jackpot would have won. Even though Luna had loaded the dice, his connection with luck would have granted him victory. However, the deed was done. A five and a three were rolled, not the sum of seven that he need to win. This mistake cost him his chance at royalty as well as his future plans.
When Jackpot finally sobered up, he found himself before the princess and the faux bearers. Unbeknownst to him, Celestia had conjured a spell inside the earth pony's mind to ensure that he would fulfill his end of the deal. While the whole arrangement was a bit unorthodox, it was the best solution in sight. Anypony else, even the most loyal guards, would be too risky to trust with this huge responsibility. Having examined his memories, Luna knew that his experiences outside of Equestria made him very valuable and able to handle the incarnations of the Nightmare. Though he was slightly enchanted, Jackpot would hold to his word. He had learned that much from his uncle after all.
So a plan was immediately formed. Jackpot would escort the bearer doppelgangers to the distant coast, a city not within the borders of Equestria. Trace, a town that nopony dared venture to where all manners of other species dominated. It was here that no being would suspect the duplicates as the real Twilight Sparkle and friends. The stallion would act as a middlepony between the six duplicates as well as the princesses. With time and hope, the hateful ponies would find true happiness and eventually return to Equestria. Thus, Jackpot and his charges were transported to the city of Trace.
Five years later, however, the ponies had not improved. In fact, they had only worsened. While Jackpot had overseen the six, his old habits and the influence of neighboring sin cities did not help the original objective of the princesses. Instead the doppelgangers had come to create their own separate empires, forging factions within the population. Each operated a casino that showcased their individual, twisted desires.
Celestia tried to isolate the city of Trace, even going as far as shutting down the neighboring cities' sinister industries and casinos. The latter acts were declared as 'defensive measures' for Equestria to avoid suspicion. However, it was too late for the six duplicates. The dice were cast.
Jackpot was still held to his charge. In truth, he rather enjoyed it in a bizarre way. The stallion was able to act between every faction and see the inner workings behind each. The six still answered to him even though they essentially owned Trace. While it saddened the princesses greatly over the failure, Equestria was not in danger. It was a bittersweet result. Still, they held onto the slim hope that someday the six would become good ponies.
Even centuries later, Celestia and Luna would never divulge the details of this operation to anypony else. They did, however, keep the records that Jackpot maintained and reported to them. It served as a reminder to never make their tragic mistake ever again. These chronicles summarized his experiences with the six duplicates in the city of Trace. In his notes, the stallion would come to term the assignment as 'the last casino.'