“Quest log, day two!” Pinkie narrated quietly to herself as she crunched through the leaves, just behind Applejack. It had actually been less than an hour since she’d started, but she wasn’t sweating the details. “Subject ‘Applejack’ is showing signs of dementia roleplayicus, AKA ‘going bug-nutty in the melon’. Patient requires constant supervision and separation from all role-playing materials. I will attempt to use familial social interaction to...”
“Pinkie, will you stop whispering to yourself?” said Applejack, “It’s creepin’ me out.”
“Oh, uh, sorry.” said Pinkie, “How far do we have left to go? It feels like we’ve been walking forever.”
“Hold yer horses, we’re almost there.” said Applejack. They crested a hill and the clubhouse came into view.
It had been almost a year since the kids had fixed the old place up, and the fresh lick of paint Applebloom had applied had begun to fade a little. It no longer looked like a brand new building, but it was nowhere near as dilapidated as it was before they started. Rather, it had taken on a homey and lived-in feel. The piping sound of children’s laughter could be heard faintly through the walls, along with a few bangs and crashes.
Applejack knocked on the door. “Hey, sis, it’s me an’ Pinkie!” she shouted, “Let us in!”
There was a shuffling sound from inside, and a small panel built into the door at child-height slid open. A pair of orange eyes stared up at her suspiciously through the slot.
“What’s the password?”
“Oh, come on!” said Applejack, “You know darn well it’s me!”
“Don’t matter. Nopony gets in without the password.”
Applejack sighed, shooting a glance at Pinkie Pie, who giggled back at her. “Okay, fine, you win.” she said. She leaned down to whisper through the slot. “I eat boogers for breakfast.”
“Heh heh. Okay, come on in. We’re playin’ Dungeons!”
“Oh, great.” said Pinkie dismally. She caught herself, looking back at Applejack. “I mean, oh! Great! That’s so great! Isn’t that great?”
A few deadbolts clicked into place, and the door swung open. The clubhouse was decorated sparsely, with most of the furniture consisting of old things the Apple family had donated. The beaten-up chairs and wardrobes looked old-fashioned and out of place among the fillies’ other possessions, but they seemed to like them well enough. Pinned to one wall was a parchment labeled ‘Cutie Marks’ with a long list of professions, each crossed out. The floor was strewn with toys, ranging from plush animals to the hard plastic ‘action figures’ that Scootaloo preferred.
Applebloom returned to the corner of the clubhouse her friends had staked out. Rarity was seated there with the slightly manic look on her face that she always had whenever she was in the company of her sister’s friends for more than a few hours. She waved to the two of them as they entered.
“Hello Applejack!” she said, “Oh, and Pinkie Pie, as well! What brings you both out here?”
“I could ask you the same question.” said Applejack, “I thought you weren’t too keen on babysittin’.”
“We’re not babies!” interjected Scootaloo.
“You know how it is.” said Rarity, ignoring her, “My services as DM are in high demand lately. I can hardly turn down my sister and her little friends, can I?” Scootaloo huffed at the word ‘little’, but was again ignored.
“Guess not.” Applejack shrugged, “So, what’s with all this stuff?” She gestured at the toys on the floor, which seemed to be arranged deliberately.
“Those are our characters.” explained Applebloom, “Spike won’t let us borrow his toys, so we gotta use our own.”
“Yeah!” said Sweetie Belle enthusiastically, “I’m Miss Kitty, an’ Rarity is Fuzzy Bear, an’ Applebloom is Action Colt, an’ Scootaloo is Battle-Damage Batmare.”
“Huh. You know, that’s not a bad idea.” said Applejack, looking appraisingly at the set up, “I guess anything could work as a miniature with a little imagination.”
“Trust me,” said Rarity, “Imagination is one thing these girls have in abundance.”
“Neat!” said Pinkie Pie. “So, who’s the big bunny?” She pointed to an over-sized stuffed rabbit in the corner.
“Billy Bunny’s usually the monster.” said Sweetie Belle, “‘Cause he’s too big to be a good guy.”
“Come on an’ pick out one for yourself.” said Applebloom. She drug Applejack over to a toy chest on the other side of the room.
“I’ll help,” said Scootaloo, “I know where all the good ones are.”
“Let me help too!” said Sweetie Belle, not wanting to be left out. The three fillies dug through the chest as Applejack watched in amusement.
Remembering her mission again, Pinkie Pie jumped at the opportunity to talk to Rarity alone. She leaned over, whispering, “Listen, Rarity, I need your...”
“Thank Celestia you’re here!” Rarity whispered back urgently, cutting her off. “I really need your help!”
“I... you do?” Pinkie blinked, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing so far.” she said, her eyes shifting nervously, “I just don’t want to be out numbered.”
“What, by the kids?” Pinkie snickered, “You’re not afraid of them, are you?”
“Of course not!” balked Rarity. She cocked her head, reconsidering. “Well, not individually, at least. But when they get together, things tend to get...” her voice lowered to a bare whisper, “... messy.”
“Oh, is that all it is?” said Pinkie, nudging her in the ribs, “You worry too much, Rarity.”
“I just don’t want to lose control of the situation.” Rarity insisted, “I’m not as good at this as Fluttershy is.”
“You’ll do fine.” Pinkie said, waving away her concerns, “But listen, I seriously need your help with...”
“Hey Pinkie!” Applejack shouted from over by the toy chest, “You wanna be the stuffed rhinoceros or the ninja lizard?”
“Um, I uh...” stuttered Pinkie, “The lizard, I guess.”
“All right, that means I’m the rhino.” Applejack said, sitting down between her and Rarity. “What were you two talkin’ about?
“Uh... nothing.” said Pinkie, looking downcast.
“Well, anyhow,” said Applejack, either not noticing her distress or ignoring it, “I’ve been trying to figure out my class.”
“Oh, you’re not playing Dwarfy?” said Rarity, “That’s too bad. You gave him such a charming ‘I don’t know what’s going on’ quality.”
“Yeah, well, that wasn’t exactly on purpose.” Applejack grumbled. She turned her attention to her character. “Let’s see... We’ve got your rogue, of course, and Pinkie’s bard,” she said, flipping through the kids’ character sheets, “Scootaloo’s ninja, Applebloom’s cowboy, and Sweetie Belle’s... ballerina.” She cocked an eyebrow at the little unicorn, who beamed back at her. She shrugged, continuing, “Anyway, we could use a tank and a healer. That says ‘paladin’ to me.”
“What about your race?” asked Rarity.
“Oh! Oh! You should be an orc!” said Applebloom.
“An orc?” Applejack asked, “Why’s that?”
“I dunno,” the little filly shrugged, “I just like saying ‘orc’. Orc-orc-orc!”
The other girls joined in. “Orc-orc-orc-orc-orc!”
“Stop that, children!” Rarity said sternly, “You sound like trained seals.”
“I guess I could try a half-orc.” Applejack said dubiously, “Would that even work as a paladin?”
“Well, you said you wanted to experiment.” said Pinkie, “That sounds pretty experimental to me.”
“More like just plain mental.” Applejack furrowed her brow. “The stat bonuses for half-orcs are all wrong. How would I even play it?”
“It’s a roleplaying challenge, I’ll grant you that.” said Rarity, “Why not try what I do in these situations?”
“What’s that?” asked Applejack.
“Add a little exotic flair!” Rarity winked, “Why not call him a half-orc samurai? It would mesh well with my eastern motif.”
“Hey, that could work.” Pinkie nodded, “After all, a samurai is just a paladin with an accent, right?”
“Accent, huh?” Applejack thought it over, rubbing her chin, “I... guess that could work.” she shrugged, “Eh, what the heck. What’ve I got to lose?”
“That’s the spirit!” said Rarity, “Since you’re new, do you want to just show up with the rest of us, or would you prefer a big entrance?”
“Big entrance! Big entrance!” said Applebloom, jumping with enthusiasm.
“Now, Applebloom,” Rarity admonished her, “It’s Applejack’s character, so it’s her decision.”
“Gotta go with Applebloom on this one.” Applejack grinned and gave the filly a sisterly noogie, “Either go big, or go home, right?”
“All right,” said Rarity, “If you’re ready, then let’s begin.”
Wind whistled through the rocky spires of the Black Mountains of Elldör. The gnarled series of peaks jutted out of the landscape like the serrated blade of a knife, dividing the surrounding plains and leaving only a few narrow passages between them. These paths made for a claustrophobic journey, surrounding travelers in a maze of high rock walls. Deep, sharp shadows cut across them, leaving recesses wreathed in darkness on even the brightest days. Any creature so inclined could easily use these to make themselves nearly invisible to unwary travelers, right up to the moment they struck. This was a dangerous place for those without quick reflexes and a quicker blade. This was rogue country.
Darlynn Evansong the Fair, elvish archer, professional spy, and agent provocateur, led an unlikely band of heroes through the mountain canyon. She was accompanied by her faithful friend and bard, who regaled her with stories of her recent exploits to keep up her spirits.
“And that’s how we defeated the evil vampire queen!” Zinnadiana finished triumphantly, “And how I got this funky-sweet banjolele!” She plucked a few notes on her new instrument, singing gaily, “My dog has fleeeeas..."
“A stirring tale!” said the elf, “I surely never want for entertainment when you’re around, Zinnadiana.”
The bard bowed flamboyantly. “Always happy to help!” she said, “Though I’d think your current companions would have that area covered anyway.” She pointed at the young adventurers, who were rushing up to meet them.
“Miss Evansong! Miss Evansong!” shouted Scootaloo, “I found a frog! You want me to assassinate it?” She twirled her num-chucks.
“I... what?” stuttered Darlynn, “It’s just a frog. Leave it alone.”
“But it could be a dire frog!” insisted the stealthy assassin.
Applebloom tipped her stetson. “I could hogtie the varmant, I reckon, darn tootin’.”
“I have a plus-two tu-tu!” said Sweetie Belle, apropos of nothing.
Darlynn’s keen elfin senses detected that she was losing control of her charges. She decided to focus them on the task at hand. “Okay, comrades,” she said, “It’s time I tell you why I brought you here.”
“Finally!” said Applebloom, “‘Bout time ya stopped being cagey with yer plan, consarn it!”
Darlynn bent down and began drawing a map in the dirt. “These mountains divide the kingdom of Elldör from the Mithraisian Empire. The two countries have been in constant conflict for centuries, with only the difficulty in crossing the mountains preventing all-out war. Now, six weeks ago I received a communique from the Parliament of the Emerald Court. They wish to prevent the upcoming succession of the Archduchess of Plinith, a small principality of Mithrais, which would make her next in line for the throne. Given the emperor's recent failing health and her perceived weakness among the nobility, her ascension could lead to a power struggle and allow the Counsel of Elders to seize control of the entire eastern region!”
Her allies stared at her blankly while she expanded her map across the canyon floor. “Now, keep in mind that modern Mithrais is an empire in name only, having lost most of their lands in the Three Plains War over a decade ago...”
“Um, I’m gonna stop you there, Rarity.” said Applebloom, “But when in all a’ this do we start fightin’ monsters?”
“The Counsel of Elders ARE monsters.” Rarity scoffed, “I haven’t even gotten to the part where they manipulated the market price of the barley harvest. Think of the poor serfs!”
“No offence, sis,” said Sweetie Belle, “But isn’t this a little, uh, boring?”
“Yeah, booooooo!” Scootaloo added helpfully.
“Boring!?” said Rarity, narrowing her eyes, “It’s not boring, it’s intrigue!”
Scootaloo rolled her eyes at her. “Who cares about that?” she said, “I just wanna hit evil stuff with sharp stuff.”
“Well I... That’s just...” Rarity threw a desperate look at Pinkie and Applejack. “Come on, you two, back me up here!”
Applejack coughed awkwardly. “Well, uh, I guess it couldn’ hurt to throw in a random encounter or two?”
Rarity sputtered. “Random encounter!?" she said, spitting the phrase as if it were a personal insult, "I don’t do random encounters. What’s the point of fighting without the proper character motivation?”
“Fun?” Pinkie suggested.
“XP?” added Applejack.
Rarity waived her hoof dismissively. “I’m sorry, but that’s just not how I do things.”
“I’ll do it!” said Scootaloo. There was a short silence as the adults looked at her.
“I don’t know, Scootaloo,” Rarity said hesitantly, “I’m not sure you’re ready for the responsibility of running a campaign.”
This was clearly the wrong tactic to use. Scootaloo’s mane bristled. “Am too!” she said, “You always treat us like little kids, but we can do stuff just as good as you can!”
“Yeah!” rallied Applebloom, “All three of us could do it together. We’re good at doin’ stuff together.”
“I don’t know...” said Rarity.
“Come on, sis, you never let us be in charge.” said Sweetie Belle. She looked up at her sister, her eyes going misty.
“Don’t you try that on me again!” said Rarity, “As if I didn’t catch you practicing this morning.”
“Aw heck, Rar, just let ‘em do it!” said Applejack, “At least so we can quit arguin’ and get back to the game. I ain’t even done nothin’ yet.”
Rarity slumped her shoulders. “Okay,” she said, “I suppose letting you run one or two encounters won’t hurt. Maybe it’ll help you appreciate how much work this is.”
“Hey, yeah!” said Pinkie, “It’ll be, I dunno, educational, or something.”
“Just make sure it’s dramatic,” said Rarity.
“And challenging!” said Applejack.
“And fun, right?” Pinkie added, looking at them accusingly.
“Don’t worry about it.” said Scootaloo as she flipped through the Monster Manual, “I’ve got the perfect thing...”
“So that sums up the political situation of the Eastern region.” Darlynn continued her story, “Now, it gets really complicated once the West gets involved...”
Suddenly, a slimy blue arm shot out and grabbed her, clamping over her mouth. Before anyone could react it pulled her deep into the shadows.
“Darlynn!?” shouted Zinnadiana, drawing her banjolele. She pressed a button on the instrument's neck and a pair of axe-blades popped out the side of its resonator. She drew the remaining party into a defensive circle. “Darlynn, are you okay? Speak to us!”
Her only answer was a low gurgling hiss, like the last breaths of a drowning man, echoing around them. Applebloom readied her six-shooters. “Show yerselves, ya sneakin’ pole-cats!”
Sweetie Belle moved into an arabesque, shouting into the darkness, “Yeah, what do do you want from us?”
All around them blue, frog-like creatures emerged from their hiding places, surrounding the party. The largest one held Darlynn captive in front of him, a razor-sharp claw pressed to her neck.
“Dang it, slaads!” said Zinnadiana, “I hate these guys! You okay, Darlynn?”
“I’m fine!” the elf shouted back, struggling against the creature's grip, “And the proper plural is ‘slaadi’!”
“Quiet, puny meat-creatures!” the slaadi leader hissed.
“Oh, YOU be quiet!” Darlynn shouted, “How DARE you interrupt me in the middle of my exposition! And you’re kicking up my map as we speak!”
“Yes, yes, get angry....” said the creature, “It will make your flesh taste all the sweeter.” It licked its lips lasciviously. “You have no chance of escape. Your pathetic allies are all surrounded!”
The rogue smirked. “Oh, no. Not ALL of my allies.”
“Attackaru!” The shout came from high above them. A silhouetted figure leaped down from the edge of the canyon, thrusting the blade of a long-spear straight down as he fell. He landed with the point embedded through the slaadi leader’s skull, skewering it all the way through its body and into the ground. Its muscles spasmed a few times, then it went slack, still in a standing position. Darlynn freed herself from the creature’s loosening grip and drew her bow.
Applebloom whistled, impressed. “That’s a right proper frog-giggin’ there, partner!”
The mysterious new warrior was fully clad in eastern armor, and wore a helmet featuring a grotesque, snarling face-mask. He braced his foot against the slaad’s shoulder, drawing the spear from its body in a single, fluid motion. He joined the rest of the party, standing back-to-back with the rogue as they trained their weapons on the remaining monsters, who stood stunned at the sudden change in their fortune.
“Excellent timing, Kraggak.” she said to her new ally, “I knew it was a good idea to have you follow us in case of an ambush.”
The samurai removed his mask, exposing a rough, gray face that wasn’t much different from it. “Light, I forrow you,” he said, “Just rike in pran. When you in tlouble, I make super happy attackaru!”
Darlynn twisted her head around to stare at him for a second, before thinking better of it and refocusing on the slaadi threat in front of her. “I... yes, um, thank you.” she stuttered, “S... surely you have turned the tide of this battle.”
Kraggak smiled broadly around his stubby tusks, “Ugry flog-men no match for my kung-fu!”
“Yes...” Darlynn said, slowly and deliberately. She closed her eyes, lowering her bow momentarily to pinch the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger.
“You okay, Dalrynn-san?” he said, “You need me to ray hands?”
“I’m... fine.” the elf gritted her teeth, “Just getting a sudden migraine, is all.”
The remaining slaadi seethed at them with raw animal fury. “They killed our leader.” one of them shouted, “What do we do?”
“Idiot!” another, more level-headed slaad yelled at him, “They are still few, while we are many! Don’t let them escape!” The newly motivated group closed in around the adventurers.
Zinnadiana struck out at the one closest to her with her banj-axe. It ducked and weaved, her swings missing by inches. “Stay still, darn it!” she yelled. It lashed out at her face with its claw. She tried to parry the blow, but its claws punched through the drum skin, stopping inches from her face.
“Gah!” she yelped, tumbling backwards. She looked at her ruined instrument, “Aw, come on, I just got that one!” she whined. The slaad reared up to strike again, but stopped with a sudden jerk. It slumped over, one of Darlynn’s arrows protruding from its back.
“Nice save!” she said, shooting the elf a thumbs up.
“Perhaps next time you’ll bring a more durable weapon?” she said sardonically.
“Oh, sure, ruin all my fun.” Zinnadiana smirked.
Nearby, the young adventurers had one of the creatures cornered. “Ninja-punch! Ninja-kick!” said Scootaloo.
“Plié! Battement!” said Sweetie Belle, coming to her aid.
The slaad lashed out with its claws.
“Arrg, I’m hit!” said Scootaloo. She flipped over a panel on her figure to reveal Realistic Battle Damage(TM), adding, “And I’m like, ‘You suck!’ Then they say, uh... they say...”
“Ohh, tag me, tag me!” said Sweetie Belle. They slapped hooves, swapping places. “Okay, so the frog guys are all like, ‘Graah! We’re gonna smash yer bones and eat the squishy stuff inside!’, but I’m like, ‘Nuh uh!’, and then... uh...” she faltered.
“I got it!” said Applebloom, tagging in.
Pinkie nudged Applejack in the side. “What do you think?” she whispered over Applebloom’s narration.
“Actually,” Applejack whispered back, “I’m a little freaked out at how well this is working.”
“... And the rest of ‘em run off like a buncha’ sissies!” Applebloom finished. The other girls applauded.
“Wooo! Go us!” said Scootaloo.
“We rule!” added Sweetie Belle.
“That actually wasn’t bad, for a first try.” Rarity admitted, “Although you should have made an Intimidation check before they ran away.”
“Nah,” Scootaloo dismissed her, “We don’t really have to do that stuff if we don’t wanna.”
Rarity’s eyes boggled. “But it’s in the rules!”
“Oh yeah? So’s this!” Scootaloo opened the DM’s guide, showing it to her, “See? House rules. If the DM wants to change something, they totally can!”
“That’s a pretty broad interpretation of...” Rarity started.
“... AND” Scootaloo continued, ignoring her, “Since we’re the DM, I say if something’s cool enough, we don’t have to roll any dice or anything.”
“Yeah!” said Applebloom, “If it’s awesome, it happens!”
“Not a bad rule, if you ask me.” said Pinkie.
Applejack rolled her eyes. “Completely game-breaking, but whatever.”
“Okay, what’s next?” said Sweetie Belle, “We need another monster.”
“Well, okay...” said Rarity, trying to maintain some form of control, “You can do another encounter if you want, but first let me show you how to calculate a challenge rating...”
“Don’t worry about it, sis,” said Sweetie Belle, “We got this.” They gathered into a huddle.
“Let’s do a dire pony!” said Scootaloo.
“What?” Applebloom turned up her nose at her, “No way, that’s too weird.”
“It’s not weird if they’re dire.” Scootaloo insisted.
“We’re not fighting ponies!” said Applebloom.
“How about an eyeball thing?” suggested Sweetie Belle.
“Ohh, I’ve always wanted to try one of those!” said Scootaloo.
“Perfect!” agreed Applebloom.
Applejack eyed them warily. “Should I be worried?” she asked.
“Nah,” said Pinkie, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Okay, now I really am worried.”
The ground shook underneath the party's feet.
Kraggak bent over to look at the ground. He watched in puzzlement as a few pebbles began levitating into the air before his eyes. “Watashi-wha... !?”
“Look out!” shouted Zinnadiana. She barreled into him, knocking him out of the way just as a disintegration beam ripped through the floor where he was standing. A cloud of dust and debris filled the canyon, obscuring their vision.
“What is it?” asked Darlynn, shielding her eyes.
“Whatever it is, we can totally take it!” said Scootaloo.
“Yeah!” said Applebloom, “We’ll send ‘im runnin’ just like them no-good froggies!”
Zinnadiana squinted through the dust. She could just make out the a number of wriggling shapes rising out of the newly-created hole in the canyon floor. One-by-one, each appendage turned to face the party, a single eye blinking open at each of their tips. As the creature rose into the air they were joined by a massive central eye and a mouth full of dripping fangs.
“Oh no,” Zinnadiana said in a voice barely above a whisper, “We have to run.”
“What? No way!” said Sweetie Belle, moving into an aggressive relevé, “Running is what the monsters do when they find out how awesome we are.”
Zinnadiana dove again, knocking Sweetie Belle down just as a fiery blast slammed into the wall behind her. “Seriously, we need to run!” she said, “We can’t beat a beholder. We don’t have a spellcaster, I don’t have an instrument for my bard spells anymore, and Darlynn can’t flank it. We have to get out of here!”
“O... kay...” said Sweetie Belle, still staring at the scorched wall where she had been standing only seconds before.
“Nevel!” Kraggak shouted, “I mean, never! A gleat samurai does not act so cowardry!” The half-orc rose to his feet, standing defiantly before the beholder, and readied his spear. “Face me, monster, and I shall show you my tlue stlength!”
The beholder turned all of its eyes on the warrior before it. It snorted, then charged at him, snapping its terrible jaws. Kraggak rolled out of the way, thrusting his spear up into its side as he landed. The blade bounced off of the scaly hide harmlessly.
“You can’t hurt it, Kraggak!” Darlynn shouted, “Its defenses are too strong!” She positioned herself in front of the children, shielding them from any further attacks.
“Yes... I... can!” said the warrior, punctuating each of his words with a thrust of his spear, “Just... need... to... roll... a... TWENTY!” He dropped his spear, switching to pummeling the beast with his bare fists.
The beholder ceased its attacks, staring down at the half-orc in bewilderment. Kraggak was sweating now, his mind a blur as he rained blow after blow down on the creature’s body, each time failing to make even the slightest dent. He drew his fist back with a final scream of frustrated rage, aiming directly for the center eye...
Applejack’s chest heaved up and down. She looked down, noticing her hoof extended in front of her. Her brow furrowed in confusion. Looking up again, she saw the others staring at her, slack-jawed.
“You punched Billy Bunny!” said Sweetie Belle, agast.
“I... uh... I guess I...” said Applejack. She looked around, disoriented.
“It was your fault!” said Applebloom, coming to her sister’s defense, “You’re the one who wanted to use the stupid eyeball thing!”
“Hey, back off!” said Scootaloo, shoving her, “It’s not her fault your sister’s nuts!”
“You take that back!” said Applebloom, shoving her back.
“Stop fighting!” shrieked Sweetie Belle, inserting herself between them, “You can’t just start fighting in the middle of a battle!”
All three of them leaped at each other, rolling across the floor.
“Girls, stop it!” said Rarity, “Don’t you... ! You can’t... ! That’s very fragi...” She flinched as the angry ball of fillies knocked over an elderly bureau with a crash. She turned her attention to Pinkie and Applejack, her eyes burning.
The pair exchanged a nervous look. Before either of them knew what was happening they were landing in a heap outside the clubhouse. Rarity glared down at them from the doorway.
“I can’t BELIEVE you two!” she barked, “I ask you for help, and now look what’s happened!”
Over her shoulder, the fillies tumbled past. “Ow, Applebloom bit me!” Scootaloo yelped.
“Did not, you liar!” said Applebloom, an orange feather stuck to her lip.
Rarity slammed the door shut. After a short pause, it opened again, and Rarity stuck her head out.
“And your accent was atrocious!” She slammed the door again.
After a slight pause, Applejack spoke up. “Yeah, well, as if the goofy accent you’re always talkin’ with is so great...” she said, lamely.
A tense moment passed, and Applejack and Pinkie Pie picked themselves up. They walked in silence for a while, until the fields started to give way to the outskirts of Ponyville proper. Applejack broke the silence, sitting down with a huff. “It’d be nice,” she said, “It’d be really nice if we could have just ONE game that doesn’t end in a fistfight.”
Pinkie gave her a worried look. “You mean a hoof-fight, right?”
“Y... yeah.” said Applejack, blinking, “What did I say?”
Pinkie thought furiously. This was getting serious. She had to think of a way to keep Applejack’s mind off of games. After a sudden flash of insight, the answer was obvious.
“Hey, are you hungry? I’m hungry!” she said, “I think there’s a Crispy’s around here somewhere. My treat?”
She led the way to a little hut-like building on the edge of town. It was one of several slightly-upscale fast food joints that had been popping up all over town lately. The hut was just big enough for a kitchen, with a few picnic tables surrounding it acting as the ‘al fresco’ dining room. It was close to lunchtime and a few families were there, eating and enjoying the brisk weather. She sat Applejack down at a free table.
“Just wait right here and I’ll go order for us.” she said, trotting off towards the little window in the side of the hut. A thought seemed to occur to her, and she spun back around quickly, “Don’t go anywhere, okay?”
“I’m not goin’ anywhere!” Applejack said tersely. Pinkie eyed her for another moment, then reluctantly turned back.
Applejack looked around grumpily. Above her, a yellow cartoon unicorn mascot grinned down at her from the restaurant’s billboard. She glared up at it, almost daring it to keep smiling, but it just kept offering her hay fries.
“Well, if it isn’t my old pony chum,” said a voice, “What is it that makes you look so glum?”
“Oh, hey Zecora.” said Applejack, noticing the zebra at the next table over for the first time. Feeling slightly silly, she tried to at least act neighborly. “What’s up? I never figured I’d see you at a place like this.”
“I know my presence may seem ironic.” Zecora said, “But I can’t resist a nice celery tonic.” She tipped her cup cheerfully in Applejack’s direction. “But never mind my choice of drink. What misfortune has left you in such a stink?”
Applejack heaved a self-pitying sigh. “Eh, I’m just havin’ the darnedest time findin’ a decent roleplaying group today.” she said morosely, “I’m sure you wouldn’t be interested.”
Zecora’s ears perked up. “Ah, now there you just might be surprised. I enjoyed such games greatly when I was pint-sized!”
For the first time since the fight at the clubhouse a smile sneaked across Applejack’s lips. “No kiddin’?” she said, “I never figured you for a gamer, either. Guess I’m learnin’ all sorts of stuff about you today.”
Zecora nodded. “It’s true, worlds of fantasy left me quite entranced. Though I haven’t played it since it was still called ‘Advanced’.”
“You know,” Applejack said slyly, “Me and Pinkie have been lookin’ for a decent DM. What do you say?” She raised her eyebrows suggestively.
The zebra paused, looking both flattered and thoughtful. “I had planned to dedicate this afternoon to my studies...” she said, tapping the table with her hoof, “But what the heck! How often do I get to play games with my buddies?”
“Awesome!” said Applejack, “Should I come by after lunch?”
“It would be my pleasure.” said Zecora, “Visit my home at your leisure!” She got up to leave, passing Pinkie Pie, who was balancing an enormous tray of food on her head.
“Hi Zecora! Bye Zecora!” she said, setting down the tray. “Okay, Applejack, I didn’t know what you wanted, so I got a little of everything. Except for the apple pies, I know you think they’re terrible. Trust me, this is just the thing you need to get your mind off of games.”
Applejack was barely listening to her. “You’re not gonna believe this,” she said, “But I was just talkin’ to Zecora over there. Turns out she’s an old-school gamer from way back. Whoda’ thought, huh? Anyway, she invited us over to her place for a few rounds.”
“W... what!?” Pinkie’s head whipped back and forth from Applejack to Zecora, off in the distance. Her left eye twitched slightly. Something deep within her snapped. “Oh for the love of- Seriously!? Are you serious!?” she shouted, “Is everypony in this town obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons!?” The tables around them went silent. A mare with two small foals stared daggers at her. She coughed, regaining her composure. “I’m just asking! I’m shouting ‘cause it’s an interesting question!”
“I know, it’s great, isn’t it?” said Applejack, obliviously, “Pass the hay fries, I’m starvin’ over here!”
Act 3: Sweet Zecora’s Badasssss Song