The day had started normally for Twilight. Well, normal for Ponyville.
Actually, scratch that. The day had actually been fairly abnormal in how utterly mundane it was. She woke up, did her business in the bathroom, came downstairs for some of Spike’s delicious cooking, and enjoyed the morning newspaper. Ten o’clock rolled around and she opened the library, just in time to intercept Derpy delivering her mail.
“Morning Twilight!” the ever bubbly Pegasus chirped happily.
“Good morning Derpy. Anything interesting today?” Twilight asked, mentally going through a variety of lists that detailed both what needed to be done today, and, time willing, what she could possibly do on the side.
This is when Twilight’s day became far more normal.
“Just your bills and an interdimensional first class delivery,” Derpy dutifully handed over the mail, and then promptly left, waving goodbye.
Twilight was already flipping through her mail. Her mind was on a few different things, and the coffee had yet to fully wake her up, so it took her a moment to register Derpy’s response.
She was inside the library and heading towards the desk she usually sat at when she froze. “Waitaminute…” She played Derpy’s words through her mind. “Inter… dimensional… first class delivery?”
Normally a line like that would have at least earned a scoff from a regular pony, but this particular Unicorn had been through two ancient evils returning and an invasion of what amounted to be near-perfect spies. Interdimensional mail really didn’t register on her bucks-to-give meter, at least not in any meaningful way.
Flipping through her mail again, this time with a purpose, she found the envelope she was looking for. Holding up in her magic, she examined it.
“Twilight Sparkle, the Golden Oak Library, Ponyville, Equestria, Equus.” Twilight blinked. “Since when did mail make the country and planet part of the mailing address?” She thought about that for a moment. “Well, it is supposedly from another world and/or reality, so I guess making sure it arrived on the right planet is important.”
She checked for a return address, only to find none. Twilight was beginning to think this was either a prank, or she was about to find herself in over her head with whatever this is.
As one final precaution before opening the envelope, Twilight scanned it for any kind of magic.
Twilight’s was flooded by the return signal she got, making her both woozy and suddenly very awake. That was a lot of magic. She also didn’t recognize the formation it was in, though she saw a few parts that resembled the runic method of teleportation.
“Definitely in over my head,” she muttered.
The magic didn’t feel aggressive, nor did it have the sensitive feel of a trap, so she decided it was safe to at the very least open.
A quick application of paper thin solidified magic, and Twilight was soon holding a folded letter and what looked to be an embossed invitation. She read the letter first.
“Through both careful consideration and a small amount of random lottery, you have been selected to participate in a night of high stakes Texas Hold ‘Em poker at The Inventory!
“I imagine you do not know of The Inventory, which is understandable considering we exist in a pocket dimension separate from most of the rest of the multiverse. Rest assured that we are a professional establishment. We will assure both your safety and mental and emotional well being from the employees and associates of The Inventory, as well as from the other players invited.
“If you choose to attend the game, please make sure to remain in physical contact with the provided invitation at exactly 9:00 PM in your world. The invitation will bring you to The Inventory as well as be your method of returning when the game is over.
“You are also afforded a Plus One to accompany you, however they will be your responsibility. As we serve alcohol and tobacco products, your Plus One must be an adult by the laws of your current residence to be accepted. To bring them with you, simply have them hold your invitation as well at 9:00 PM and they will be brought along with you.
“As this is your first night with us, we are willing to waive your buy-in fee. However, please take note that such a thing will not be repeated except in extenuating circumstances. Please also take note that we are not paying for whatever amenities you decide to partake in (i:e; drinks, tobacco, and food.).
“While your buy-in has been taken care of for tonight, we feel you must still be informed that the standard buy-in is currently twenty thousand dollars, or 2,000 bits in your world’s currency. You will be informed if plans arise to change this.”
Twilight whistled. That was not a small amount of money.
“We hope to see you tonight, Miss Sparkle, but understand if you have a prior engagement or do not trust the, admittedly, suspicious nature of the invitation.
“Regardless, please enjoy the rest of your day.
“Commodore Reginald Van Winslow (Retired)”
Twilight looked up, eyes furrowed in thought. For a moment, she considered whether or not she would attend, but then nearly smacked herself. First thing’s first.
“Spike! Come here please! I need you to take down a letter to the Princess.”
Celestia blinked the spots from her eyes. That had certainly been the smoothest teleport she had ever been in, or at least for a teleport that was conducted by an inanimate object. She glanced over at her student, and suddenly had to fight down a giggle. “Are you alright, my student?” she asked.
Twilight grumbled as she tried to use her magic to smooth out her suddenly much floofier fur. “Why does this keep happening?” she asked to herself.
Celestia tilted her head. “You’ve teleported many times before and never been affected like that,” she noted.
“It’s only when I’m not the one doing the spell. I get caught in anyone else’s teleport and this happens.” Twilight frowned. “Princess, most of my magic is suppressed.”
Celestia frowned and reached into her own not inconsiderate well of power. Like Twilight, her own access to her magic was suppressed, though not removed entirely.
“My apologies, madams. That is a general safety feature of the world you are now in.”
The two mares turned to find a human male wearing an admirals cap and a red coat standing behind them. He had a genial smile. “Welcome to the Inventory.” He bowed slightly. Then he reached down and plucked Twilight’s invitation from the ground where it had fallen. “Miss Twilight Sparkle?” he asked, looking between them.
Twilight raised a hoof. “That’s me. Princess Celestia is my Plus One,” she said, gesturing to the Alicorn.
“Ah, very good,” the human said. He looked at Celestia. “While you will be afforded respect, please understand that your position holds no authority here,” he said.
Twilight sputtered at that, but was halted from saying anything by Celestia raising a hoof in her direction. “I understand. I assume you are mister Winslow then?” she asked.
The man frowned. “Oh where are my manners?” he asked himself before bowing. “Commodore Reginald Van Winslow, retired, at your service. I shall be your host and dealer tonight.” He straightened before leading the two mares towards a nearby building. “The other guests are already within. Please, follow me.
“May I ask some questions on the way?” Twilight asked.
The group came to a door that was a couple levels below the first floor of the building.
“This world naturally suppresses most talents that you would not otherwise find in this world.” Reginald said, answering Twilight’s question regarding their suppressed magic. “There is magic here, but it is a subtle magic, the kind that not many even believe exists. As such, only most of your power was suppressed, leaving you with enough to do minor things only, I imagine. One moment,” he said, before grabbing the handle of the door and turning it oddly. Then he let go and shoved against the wall around the door, making it and the door both slide back.
“Interesting method of hiding a room,” Celestia noted as they stepped onto the second floor balcony of the room. “Any particular reason for such an entranceway?” she asked.
“The Inventory began its life as an illegal club during a time when the local government was considering banning all video games,” Reginald explained, leading the two down the stairs. “It has since fallen into the hands of the Owner, and he decided to turn it into an invitation only club. Gambling is only a small part of this establishment. Normally we would take an elevator down to here, but it is currently out of order.”
“I’m still iffy on that, by the way. This can’t be legal.”
All three of them looked up at that and saw a human dressed in a blue and red spandex suit that seemed to be themed after spiders. He was somehow clinging to the ceiling with his hands and feet.
Reginald frowned. “Mr. Parker! You were asked to remain off the walls and ceiling during your time here. Come down here at once.”
The man cringed and dropped down to the floor, landing almost easily despite the almost three story drop. “Yeesh, talk about a buzz kill,” he said, taking his mask off to reveal a white skinned man with messy brown hair. He started walking towards the circular table in the center of the room.
“I thought you said…” Twilight said slowly.
“That it suppresses most powers. Clearly, Mister Parker is an exception. However, he is well practiced at controlling both himself and his powers so the Owner has graciously allowed him to continue visiting,” Reginald explained.
“Of course, powers don’t define a person.”
Once again the group looked up, and this time found themselves staring at a bipedal raccoon wearing a blue long sleeved shirt and cap and carrying a hooked cane. He was staring at them from the railing on the floor above them.
“Mr. Cooper.” Reginald smiled. “A pleasure to see you again.”
“Hey, you know me. Always up for a little excitement,” the raccoon said, before he vaulted over the railing and landed near the table. “Who else are we waiting on?” he asked, taking a seat and leaning his cane against the table.
Reginald led Twilight to the table. “Only two others. Miss Sparkle, there is no room at the table for your Plus One, I’m afraid. She will have to entertain herself while the game goes on. You are, of course, allowed to speak to her and ask her for advice, but she cannot observe the other players.”
Celestia nodded. “Again, I understand. I came here more as support for Twilight than anything else. If you don’t mind, I’d be interested in discussing the history of this building with you while they play.”
Reginald smiled. “Ah, I’d be delighted. But first, we must wait for the other two players.”
“Look no further,” came a male voice. Everyone turned to find a somewhat tall human with brown hair and dressed in a blue toga standing by the stairs. His eyes, oddly enough, glowed. “You know I always try to make time for one of these, Reginald.”
Reginald nodded. “ Indeed. I can imagine dealing with the Olympians is quite stressful.”
“Yo. Looks like I’m fashionably late, as usual.” This time the group looked up at the second floor, where they found a man with silver hair leaning against the railing and reading an orange book. His face was covered by a mask and headband both, leaving only his right eye exposed.
Reginald clapped his hands together. “Excellent! Everyone is here. If you’ll take your seats, please.”
A few moments of movement, and everyone was seated. Reginald came to stand next to Twilight. “Before we begin tonight’s game, I would like to introduce you to our newest player, Twilight Sparkle. In her home world she is a powerful magical Unicorn that is the personal student of their ruler. Everyone, please introduce yourselves.”
The raccoon tilted his hat. “Sly Cooper, at your service. I’m the latest in a long line of Master Thieves. Rest assured, I only steal from other thieves. Makes for an interesting challenge.”
The brown haired man wearing the red and blue spandex suit nodded at Twilight. “Peter Parker. I spend most days in my world as a hero in New York city. I’m your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!” He struck what he believed to be a dramatic pose only for most at the table to snicker at him. He grumbled and crossed his arms. “Well I think I’m cool,”
The man wearing the blue toga stood and bowed to Twilight. “I am Arkantos, and I am essentially a human that ascended to divinity through hardship and perseverance in the face of adversity. I managed to save the people of my home from a calamity, though not the home itself.”
Celestia, who had seated herself at the bar and ordered a drink, looked up at that.
The silver haired man put his book down. “Kakashi Hatake. Ninja of the Hidden Leaf Village. I like my friends and watching my students grow, and dislike those who abandon their friends and comrades. My dream has already come true, so now I am content with helping my students fight to make our world a better place.”
Celestia, who was already paying attention due to Arkantos’ introduction, adopted a thoughtful look at Kakashi’s introduction. ‘It sounds like he may fit in well at Ponyville…’ she mused.
Reginald pulled out a deck of cards and began expertly shuffling them. “As your invitations stated, tonight the game will be Texas Hold’Em Poker. Before we begin, does anyone need the rules explained?”
“Excellent!” With a flourish, Reginald began dealing out cards. Once everyone had two, he placed the deck on the table in the center. “I will be the dealer this round, gentleman. Afterwards, however, Kakashi will be dealer, and each round it will go to whoever is on the left of the current dealer. The Blinds are currently two hundred and four hundred. I will inform you when they change.”
Twilight looked around. Kakashi was on her right, with Arkantos on her left, then Sly on his left, then Peter, and then back to Kakashi, meaning she would be dealer in two rounds. She also realized she was the only female player at the table.
Using her magic, she lifted her cards so she could see them.
‘It’s been a while since I played Poker, but even I know there’s not much I can do with this,’ she thought, throwing in her blind. A king of spades and a two of clubs.
“Call,” Sly said, throwing in his chips.
“Call,” Peter also joined the round.
“Hmm… No, not this time. Fold,” Kakashi slid his two cards forward and leaned back, pulling his orange book out and reading it once more.
Twilight shook her head. “I’m with Mr. Hatake. No thanks.” She slid her cards forward.
Kakashi chuckled. “Been a long time since anyone’s called me mister anything,” he said. “Go ahead and call me Kakashi, Ms. Sparkle. Kakashi-san if you must be formal.”
“Check” Arkantos said, tapping his cards with a knuckle. As Reginald pulled three cards from the deck, he said, “It’s been a long time since you deserved the title.”
Twilight blinked at the insult, and at how the table chuckled at the insult. Sly folded just in time to notice. “Not one of the types to poke fun at friends, are you?” he asked.
Peter also folded at the sight of the three cards on the table. Twilight shook her head. “No. Where I’m from friends are important, and we generally don’t do things that could endanger that. Friendship is one of the greatest sources of magic in my world.”
Arkantos pulled the pile of chips towards him, as he was the last player standing. “Not a great haul, but the night’s still young,” He commented.
Kakashi gathered all the cards together and began shuffling as Reginald made his way over to Celestia to begin their conversation. Arkantos glanced at Twilight. “Don’t worry about it. We’re not actually trying to insult each other… usually,” he added as an afterthought. “It’s just good-natured fun to us. We don’t expect you to insult us to fit in, but if you think you got a good stinger, by all means, let loose. The only time we’ll take offense is if you deliberately hit a sore spot.”
“My father and best friend,” Kakashi said. “I’m mostly over the loss, but I still don’t like people poking at them.”
“MJ… She died because of me, and I don’t want to be reminded about the woman I loved dying due to my actions. But by all means, pick fun at my taste in women, just… not her specifically,” Peter said.
“Haven’t found a subject yet that can really insult me, except maybe saying my friends are incompetent,” Sly added.
“Atlantis. While not particularly a sore subject for me, it is still uncomfortable to be reminded that I failed to save my homeland,” Arkantos said, before dealing out cards.
Twilight glanced at her cards, thoughtful. King of diamonds and ace of hearts. Royal Flush was out, but maybe she could pull a Flush?
Once Arkantos and Sly paid their blinds, Peter sighed and folded. “Nope. Not confident here.”
Kakashi also folded. “I guess this isn’t my round.”
Twilight threw in some chips. “Call.”
Arkantos threw in some chips and called as well. Sly looked at Kakashi. “So… ninja?” he asked.
Kakashi nodded, turning a page in his book. “Granted, we’re not the kind of ninja you would expect, but yes. Ninja, Shinobi, and Kunoichi. Trained in stealth, assassination, subterfuge, and hunting.” His eyes glanced at Sly. “Why? Looking for a Sensei?”
Sly Checked and shook his head. “No, just curious if your stealth training is anything like mine. Some of the techniques I learned were designed by my shinobi ancestor, so I’m curious.”
Kakashi picked up the deck and flipped out three cards. Twilight focused on them. Eight of spades, Jack of hearts, and a jack of diamonds.
She Checked. Nothing really worthwhile yet, but it didn’t cost anything to Check.
Another round of checks went by. Kakashi threw out another card. Eight of hearts. She checked again.
Arkantos smirked. “Let’s see some money. Raise,” he threw in some more chips.
Sly shrugged. “Alright, I’m in.” He grinned. “No, better yet, I Raise!”
Kakashi blinked. “Isn’t this supposed to be a friendly game of high stakes poker?” he asked.
That was enough for Twilight. “Neeeeeope!” she said, pushing her cards away. “Maybe if I had jack or eight, but I’m not stupid.”
Celestia at the bar snorted. “No, far from it. You regularly outstrip most scholars back home,” she commented, to a round of chuckles.
Arkantos sighed. “There went that bluff,” he mumbled tossing his hand on the table in a Fold.
Sly used his cane to pull the slightly impressive pile towards himself. “Tongue of silver, gentleman… and lady. Tongue of silver.”
“Wonder how Carmelita feels about that,” Sly’s cane whacked Peter in the back of the head in the blink of an eye, but he was still grinning at the guffaws that his comment had stirred up.
Twilight felt herself beginning to relax. She had her reservations of course, but to be perfectly honest? She was beginning to see that these people were friendly, if not exactly friends.
So far she didn't regret coming.