Duelists of the Friendship Cup
A Rival Appears!
“Harmony Guardian Compassio, attack!”
The redhaired warrior women hefted her sword and leapt into the air, light gleaming off of shining gold armor. She descended in a two-handed cleave, slicing apart the defending monster in cybernetic hockey armor. The monster exploded in a blast of wind.
Sunset looked down at her duel disk as Rainbow Dash’s Life Point counter ticked down to zero, her portrait lighting up red along with the numerals. “That’s game.”
Rainbow lowered her arm and shook her head. “I’m gonna beat you one of these days.”
“I only had six hundred Life Points left, that was pretty close.”
Watching the duel from the stands at the side of the back field, Applejack snorted. “Sure, close for a normal duelist. It’s a bit different for your magic voodoo powers.”
Sunset frowned. “I told you, I don’t do that anymore. I don’t even know if I can.” She looked down at her hand, flexing her fingers. I haven’t had any of my powers flare up since… She shook her head to dismiss the memory of blinding white light engulfing her.
“My turn next!” Pinkie jumped in place. “I wanna try out my new deck!”
“I’ll pass this one.” Sunset walked to the stands to join the others, unstrapping her duel disk and setting it beside her.
“I’ll give it a go, Pinkie.” Rarity stood up and adjusted her duel disk’s placement on her arm. Pinkie squeed and ran out onto the grass while Rainbow came to sit down as well.
“Five bucks on Rares,” Applejack said, holding out her hand.
Rainbow reached out and slapped it. “You’re on. Fluttershy, Sunset, you want in?”
Fluttershy shook her head.
“No thanks,” Sunset said.
On the grass in front of them, Rarity and Pinkie stood opposite each other and raised their arms, their duel disks lighting up. Applejack held up her own disk and entered spectator mode, Fluttershy and Rainbow leaning in.
Behind the trio, Sunset took a breath and looked out over the field. They weren’t the only students playing. Sunset saw three other duels going on, small bunches of students watching. Other groups were seated around the tables under the trees at the far end of the field, cards spread out on them for trades and playing.
Sunset closed her eyes and smiled. It’s amazing how much has changed in so short a time.
It had only been three months since Twilight had won the Autumn Crown Tournament, and the student body of CHS had begun to move on from its bitter and competitive atmosphere. There was talk that the upcoming Spring Crown Tournament would do away with the winner’s privileges and just have the winner be a bragging-rights position. Others were petitioning for some sort of material reward of cards or a gift certificate to a local card shop.
I guess it makes sense. I’ve kinda set the precedent twice now. She had been the one to manipulate Celestia into giving the winner of the tournaments – Sunset herself – special privileges. Since her loss to Twilight and Twilight returning to Equestria, the school had been in the odd position of being without a reigning champion. Celestia had first approached Flash Sentry, then Sunset and Rainbow, about assuming the position, but all three had declined. Twilight’s departure had absolved that drive and need to be the best that had hung over the school for years.
I owe a lot to her. Sunset opened her eyes, not paying attention to the duel in progress. She saved the school from me. She saved me from myself. Thinking back now, it was like watching someone else’s life. The life of someone full of hate and pride and jealousy. Someone who needed to assert her superiority over others no matter how she made it happen. Sunset bit her lip and lowered her head. That’s not me anymore. I have the deck to prove it. She smiled and reached down to her duel disk.
Her hand hit the slot where the deck was inserted and her fingers felt cold plastic.
Sunset snapped her head down and saw her duel disk empty. She looked around the area and caught movement under the metal bleachers. Lowering her head to look between the seats, Sunset saw a figure in a hooded blue sweatshirt kneeling with their back to her, hands moving to flip through a stack of cards.
“Hey!” Sunset stood and ran to the end of the bleachers to jump to the ground. At her voice the figure’s head snapped up and they ran, Sunset’s cards falling to the grass. Sunset reached them and stopped, noticing the figure’s hands empty as they pumped their arms to jog across the street. A bus stopped nearby and when it pulled away the figure was gone.
“Sunset?” Applejack’s voice drew Sunset to look behind her and see her friends looking at her.
“I think I just caught someone trying to steal my deck,” Sunset muttered.
Rarity gasped. “The nerve! Who would do such a thing?”
“I dunno, they escaped.” Sunset pointed at the bus pulling down the street.
Rainbow squinted and put a hand over her eyes to look down the street at the back of the bus. “The eight?” She lowered her hand and rolled her eyes. “What a shock.”
Sunset finished gathering her cards – it seemed there were none missing, at least – and stood up. “What’s a shock?”
“The eight bus connects to the north end,” Rainbow explained. “And there’s only one reason someone from the rich side of town would be down here snooping at the dueling fields.”
The five spoke in unison. “Crystal Prep.”
“Canterlot’s rival school,” Applejack explained. “A bunch of upper-class snobs with more money than talent.”
Rainbow nodded. “With the Friendship Cup this weekend, they’d totally sneak down here to spy on us and get a look at our decks.”
“Right.” Sunset looked back at the bus as it turned the street corner. “But do you really think they’d stoop to spying?”
Rainbow nodded “They totally would! You know what they’re like.”
“Actually, I don’t.” Sunset held up her hands.
Rainbow recoiled. “Say what?”
“She’s never competed in the Cup,” Rarity reminded. “Though I always did wonder why, darling.”
Sunset winced and rubbed the back of her neck. “Well, I always saw the posters and heard duelists talking about it, but I didn’t see the point in taking part. You know, that point being I wanted to take over the school and make everyone bitter and competitive. School spirit rivalries weren’t really helpful for that.” She grimaced and put a hand to her face. “I’m sorry, I know how that sounds.”
Fluttershy stepped up and gently pulled Sunset’s hand away. “It’s okay, Sunset, you don’t duel for that now.”
“The point is,” Applejack cut in, “Crystal Prep has always looked down their nose at us and rubbed our faces in how much better they are than us, long before even you came on the scene.”
“Spying is the least of our problems, this rivalry isn’t fair on principal,” Rarity said. “CHS is a standard secondary school while Crystal Prep is specifically for duelists aiming to turn a career out of the game. They take courses studying the game inside and out.”
Fluttershy nodded. “They say more than four in five graduates goes on to be a professional duelist, or something related like a judge or a card designer.”
“If it’s that unfair, why get so worked up over it?”
“Because they’re jerks about it!” Rainbow snapped. “They make CHS a laughing stock! I’ve been laughed out of tournaments because everyone knows CHS duelists are just wanna-bes.” She raised her nose in the air and faked an upper-class accent. “If we were serious about the game, why wouldn’t we attend a preparatory school? If you want to be the best you have to make the commitment, not treat this like some silly hobby.”
“Right.” Sunset shrugged. “But that’s hardly our fault, right? I mean, if they’re so rich then they can afford all the rare cards they need to make the best decks. What chance do normal kids have?”
“Not only that. They also use the Expert Rule system.” Rarity tapped on her duel disk a few times and showed Sunset a header labelled ‘Rules’. “CHS uses the Casual Rules. That means Fusion-only extra decks, one Field Spell in play, and some other minor details. Crystal Prep uses a professional ruleset, Expert.”
“You know all those Synchro and Xyz Monsters no one at this school really uses?” Applejack shook her head. “Them’s all the rage at Crystal Prep.”
Pinkie nodded. “No one here likes the Expert rules since the Casual rules are more fun. So when it comes time to duel with Experts, most of our students don’t really know what they’re doing. Not to mention none of them actually have decks that use Synchro and Xyz Monsters, so they’re outmatched against more advanced decks.”
“Well, why not change that?” Sunset asked. “You said the Friendship Cup is this weekend. It’s only Tuesday so we have four days to learn how to play at Crystal Prep’s level.”
“Seriously?” Rainbow snorted. “You really think we can master a whole new ruleset and summon mechanics in just four days?”
Sunset raised an eyebrow. “Twilight mastered the game from scratch in three days.”
“She had magic.”
“And we have each other.” Sunset looked around the group. “Do we wanna give it a shot or not?”
They looked at each other. Fluttershy smiled. “Well, I do have a couple Xyz cards that could work in my deck.”
“Ah’m switching to a Fusion deck, might as well learn new rules while I’m at it.”
Rarity sighed. “Oh, very well. What have we got to lose but a few hours of our time?”
“I’m in too!” Pinkie grinned.
Rainbow nodded. “What the heck, let’s do it!” She stuck her hand out. One by one the others piled theirs on. “Crystal Prep, this year you’re going down!”
The bus stopped and the hooded figure stepped off, throwing her hood back to reveal a mass of pink-streaked purple hair tied into a bun. She walked down the street and turned down a walkway to a small two-story home.
“Mom, I’m home!” She slammed the door behind her. “I’ll be in my room!” She didn’t wait for an answer before toeing off her shoes and jogging up the stairs. She reached the door to her room, a child’s glitter-coated art project reading ‘Twilight’ hanging from the door.
Twilight sat down at her computer and turned it on. While it booted up she reached over to a table by her desk and pulled a camera drone over to her. She grabbed the remote control and loaded up the last video entry it had recorded, dated from last week. It began to play, displaying a duel on the back fields of CHS.
“I knew it.” Twilight paused the video and sat back, rubbing her chin. “The same girl and the same monsters…” Her computer let out a three-tone chime to signal it was finished booting. Twilight turned to it and opened her browser, typing and clicking rapidly as the home page loaded. I have to let the principal know my suspicions, but best to double-check one last time now that I got a closer look.
“Twily?” Twilight didn’t stop working as her door nudged open, an older boy with blue hair peaking in. “Mom wants to know if you want gravy with supper.”
“Not now, Shiny, busy,” Twilight muttered, her eyes fixed on her computer. Those symbols were definitely something new. What was that card type? Pendulum? Before she could continue her train of thought, she found a large burly white arm wrapped around her head.
“Too busy to chat with your BBBFF?” Shining Armor laughed.
“Let go!” Twilight pushed his arm away and adjusted her seating before going back to her work.
Shining looked at her computer screen, recognizing the program she was using as a card database. “Is this about that CHS duelist again?”
He sat down on the edge of Twilight’s bed. “I knew you were obsessive but this is a bit much, even for you.”
Twilight huffed and turned her head. “It is not obsessive! I told you, I’ve searched my entire database of cards and I have no idea what deck she’s playing. I’ve emailed judges, designers, spoken to pro duelists. None of them have any idea what this ‘Harmony Guardian’ archetype is, much less these ‘Pendulum’ monsters.”
Shining shrugged. “Maybe you just misheard the name?”
“No.” Twilight shook her head as she went back to her work. “I went down there and snuck a peak at her deck when she was distracted. Her card layout is unlike any I’ve seen: two boxes for effect text and red and blue symbols on the side. I also can’t figure out how she plays them.” She waved her hand to the side. “I’ve used the drone to record a few duels of hers but the plays don’t make sense. She seems to play her Monster cards as Spell cards sometimes, and when her monsters are destroyed they don’t seem to register as being in the graveyard.”
Shining frowned. “Twily, if you get caught talking about this stuff, I could get in serious trouble. I don’t need people whispering that the school champ has his little sister spying on Canterlot High the week before the Friendship Cup.”
“You’ll appreciate it when I prove that they’re cheating,” Twilight replied. “Using cards no one has heard of before and that seem to have different mechanics that aren’t fully understood? They’re up to something. It’s possible they have an insider who is getting them cards not on the open market yet, or more likely, they’re using fake cards. Either way, I can’t ignore it.”
“I think you’re jumping to conclusions,” Shining said. “But if you’re right, fair point on investigating it. Have you let the principal know about this? If there is a chance that CHS might try to pull something underhanded this weekend, we can’t keep it to ourselves.”
“That was my next step. I was just double checking my database to make sure there’s no chance I overlooked something. I didn’t.” Twilight gestured at the browser window she had open. “I set up this website bot to track the most popular Duel Monsters news sites and keep a running update of all known cards in circulation, even the ones no one could possibly have like tournament-exclusives. If these ‘Pendulum’ cards aren’t in my database, then they don’t exist.” She went to her email and began to type up her message.
“Well, let me know what you find,” Shining stood up. “Come down when you’re done, mom wants to talk to you about supper.”
“Sure.” Twilight heard her door click closed and kept typing. When she was finished she read over her message to the principal.
“I recognize directly emailing you is highly unorthodox, but I feel this matter is of the utmost importance and must be brought to your attention. For the last few months I have become aware of strange cards being used by a duelist at Canterlot High, seemingly their former champion Sunset Shimmer. What concerns me is that these cards, identified as ‘Pendulum Monsters’, do not seem to exist in any known card database, and all contacts in the professional world I have reached out to reaffirm that judgement. I believe CHS may be trying to use illegal cards in this weekend’s Friendship Cup and wanted to inform you of this, so that suitable actions may be taken to ensure the integrity of the tournament.”
Twilight thought for a moment, then typed one more sentence.
“I’ve attached some evidence of my suspicions to this email for you to look at.”
She clicked the paperclip icon and browsed to one of the video recordings she had taken with her drone of Sunset dueling, and attached it. Satisfied with her email, Twilight hit Send. She picked up the viewer for her drone and let the video play, watching the redheaded duelist summon her unknown monsters three at a time; a slap in the face to all Twilight knew about the game.
I don’t know what you’re up to, Sunset Shimmer, but I’m onto you and you won’t get away with it.
Sitting on the bed in her apartment with her legs crossed under her, Sunset finished laying out her deck and looked over it. This deck has been doing just fine so far, but I’m not really sure if it can keep up with pro-level duelists like Crystal Prep might have. But what other options do I have? Sunset had never spent much time collecting cards, she’d never had the money to spare. Besides, her power to shift the contents of her deck as needed had ensured her continual dominance. Sure wish I had that power again. She flexed her hand and frowned. As unfair as it was using magic like that, it would come in handy now. Her win-loss record since the Autumn Crown Tournament was a perfectly respectable 24-7. But a 31-0 record would be even better.
Sunset’s phone buzzed and she reached out to her nightstand to pick it up. Rainbow had texted her.
*Tomorrow the school votes on which duelists they want in the Friendship Cup*
*Rumor says the five of us will be a shoe-in since everyone loves us after the last tournament*
Sunset smiled and typed out a response.
*How many duelists compete?*
*It’s seven-on-seven. There’s us five, and Flash is usually in. And maybe you*
Sunset paused. Maybe?
*Why only ‘maybe’?*
*Normally the champions of the Autumn and Spring tournaments are in, and then the school votes on the other five. That’s been you the last couple of years, but you always declined entry. This year, hard to say*
Sunset nodded. Wish I had taken an interest in these things before.
*I’ll talk to Celestia tomorrow, she’ll probably let me in given my win streak.*
Sunset set her phone beside her and took a deep breath. I can do this. For them. If they want a win, I can give them one. She had tried to lay low after the Autumn Crown, just hang out with her new friends and try not to get on anyone’s nerves. Whatever purifying magic Twilight had used on her seemed to have worked on the rest of the school, too, or maybe it was just Sunset’s imagination. Either way, most everyone seemed nicer and no one was really looking to cause trouble for her. But at the same time she noticed people whispering when she dueled. The applause when she won was usually polite, not genuine.
I may not be that kind of duelist anymore, but I still have a long way to go to be accepted here. A win against Crystal Prep will help… assuming I can pull my weight. I talked a good pep talk before but I really have no idea what I’m getting into.
She shook her head. I can’t worry about that. I know I’m still good, I can do this. I just have to make sure I’m allowed in, and Celestia can handle that tomorrow. No use mulling it over tonight.
She gathered up her cards and set them on her nightstand, then tapped out a good night text to Rainbow and plugged her phone into the charger.
“Twily!” Shining Armor’s voice called up the stairs and echoed into her room. “Come on, I’m ready!”
“Coming!” Twilight finished her typing and saved the deck list she was working on. She grabbed her duel disk, a streamlined purple and pink rectangle just slightly wider than her arm with the deck slotted into one end, and strapped it on. She shut down her computer and then jogged down the stairs. She looked at the time display on her phone and smiled. “8:29. I’m ready on-time.”
“Barely.” Shining ruffled her hair and pulled open the door. The two siblings walked to the car parked in the driveway and climbed in, Shining driving.
Twilight looked down at her phone and began to open the browser when the device buzzed and a numeral appeared over the email icon. She tapped it and opened her new email. She read it and gasped.
“The principal wants to speak to me before class.”
With ten minutes left until classes began, the students were beginning to empty out of the halls of Crystal Prep. As Twilight headed to the main office she saw several students with duel disks looking at statistics. With the Friendship Cup this weekend, duelist standings to get into the top seven rankings and compete were going to be locked on Friday night. Anyone close to edging into the top seven was itching to duel and get their record up.
Twilight reached the office door and pushed it open. The main secretary raised her head and smiled.
“Good morning, Twilight.”
“Good morning, Miss Amore.” Twilight waved. “The principal wanted to see me?”
“Yes, go right ahead.” Ms. Amore nodded towards the door on the left end of the room.
Twilight walked past the counter and paused in front of the door to compose herself. You know why you’ve been called, and you know you’re right. Just explain what you know and don’t start to babble. She raised a hand and knocked.
Twilight turned the handle and stepped inside, giving what she hoped was a friendly smile.
“You wanted to speak to me, Principal Sombra?”