The game continued on from there, with only some minimal betting happening between games. Twilight had in fact been presented with a challenge against Sly again, and though she wasn't entirely confident in her hand, she let herself get goaded into losing most of her chips. After that she had become a bit subdued in her playing, being far more careful.
Idle chat and conversation peppered the rest of the game, and before long Arkantos found himself making one risk too many, and Sly ended up kicking him out of the game. Next thing Twilight knew she was in a showdown against Sly.
"I come from a world eerily similar to this one, you know?" Sly said as he shuffled the cards.
"The countries, nations, and basic geology were all the same, even most of the history, but instead of humans it was occupied by animals like me."
"Like you?" Twilight asked.
Sly shrugged. "You know, upright on two legs, speaks English,, but animals... and chock full of all our own cultural assholes." He sighed. "The less said about our government the better." Seeing Twilight's curiosity, he decided to humor her. "Most lawyers are sharks, most police officers are canines, though there are felines as well intermingled, and most politicians are weasels. The cherry on that lovely cake is the orangutan of a President." He puts the deck of cards down to rub his face with his hand. "I'm not one for racial stereotyping, unless it's in good clean fun, but our government makes it far too easy at times..."
Twilight could only wince in sympathy.
The hands went back and forth for a while after that, and Twilight made a bit more small talk with Sly while Arkantis amused himself with what sounded like a fairly in depth conversation about leadership qualities between him, Celestia, and Kakashi. However, as the night drew into the morning hours, Twilight decided to just call it a night and concede defeat to Sly.
Twilight shook Sly's hand with her hoof, barely managing to hold in a yawn, and began gathering her saddlebags. "I hope I get the chance to play against you guys again," she said as the rest of the group, including Celestia and Reginald, gathered around the table.
Reginald held up a bag that jingled and tossed it to Sly. "As the winner of tonight's tournament, you get one hundred Inventory Tokens. Congratulations." He turned to Twilight and held up a slip of paper towards her. Curious, Twilight took it in her magic and looked at it. "As you have a currency that almost exactly mirrors the Tokens, the Owner has agreed that, until this situation is resolved, you will have to make use of a different means to track your Tokens. As such, that slip of paper is worth the fifty Tokens you earned tonight by placing second in the tournament," he explained.
True enough, the paper had a written 50 on it, alongside two signatures, Reginalds signature and one that simply says The Owner. Twilight slipped it into one of her bags and shook Reginald's hand. "Thank you for the fun night," she said to him, before looking at the others. "All of you. Thanks."
Celestia approached. "Are you ready, Twilight?" she asked, holding the invitation that had brought them to the Inventory in her magic. "Mr. Winslow says this will take us home once we're both touching it," she explained.
Twilight gave a tired smile and placed her hoof against it. She looked back at her new friends and waved. "Bye everypony!"
Then Celestia also touched it, and they were gone.
The next morning, Celestia awoke after maybe four hours of sleep to raise the sun. After a quick bath she made her way to the dining room her and Luna usually meet at for breakfast.
Luna had by now already closed Night Court and was already devastating her way through a vegetable burger with mashed potatoes and gravy. Celestia, in contrast, had a simple bowl of cereal. This was Celestia's morning, but for Luna she would soon be going to bed.
"How did the game go?" Luna asked once Celestia was settled in her chair.
Celestia swallowed her first bite of cereal. "Twilight is a very novice player, but she placed second in the tournament. She is easily goaded into being reckless with bets, but she also seemed to have a certain kind of luck that sees some of those bets return big rewards."
"And who did she play against? Players from across the world like we theorized?"
Celestia paused. "No. Actually, that was something that greatly surprised me. Twilight is the only one from this world invited to the game." She frowned as Luna blinked in surprise. "Starswirl was right, Luna. There is far more than just the human world across the mirror out there. Not only that, but apparently there is a sort of police force that enforces specific rules regarding travel between worlds."
"Yes, about that..."
Luna, having just come from time, in her perspective, where war and battle was more common, reacted first to the unfamiliar voice. In a flash of blue light she was in the air and spinning. A curved beam of pure magic arced from her horn in the direction of the voice. it exploded on contact and scattered shattered marble all over.
Celestia, though her instincts for war were dulled by centuries of peace. did not disappoint when she immediately banished the table and all of its contents towards the intruder at the same time that the beam of magic hit.
The table split down the middle and both pieces flew by the intruder without touching him. Said intruder, a human, held a hand out towards Luna, a blue shimmering barrier standing between it and her, likely having blocked her attack. His other hand gripped a simple looking sword, though one that even Celestia's limited knowledge on bladed weapons told her was well cared for.
"Parlay?" the human offered up with a hopeful grin. He sheathed his sword at his side and let the shield fade away. Then he held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Please, I come peacefully. I would have set up an appointment with you, but your world is unused to humans such as myself. I did not wish to cause a public scene."
"Who are you?" Luna demanded, landing next to her sister while conjuring a sword of magic. "And why are you here?"
The man held his right fist over his heart and bowed his head. "Captain Michael Andrews, of the S.S. Joseph. I am here in regards to your adventure through worlds."
Celestia frowned, before motioning to her sister to stand down. Luna did so hesitantly, but did not dispel her sword. "Am I in trouble?" she asked, addressing what she believed to be his reason for such a visit.
Michael shook his head. "No ma'am. I represent the military force that patrols the multiverse. We call ourselves Peacekeepers, as our entire job is to prevent chaos and upheaval on an inter-dimensional level. As such, a section of us is charged with ensuring all worlds capable of inter-dimensional travel is both logged, registered, and assessed for threats."
Luna tensed again. "Threat assessment?" she asked archly.
Michael nodded. "We examine the world for things that could threaten the World Order, a set of loose rules and regulations that inter-dimensional travelers must follow when they travel between worlds. We are concerned about a few things we have discovered in your world, and hope to discuss that with you at some point in the future, but this first visit is for the purpose of explaining the World Order to you, as well as discussing the possibility of making inter-dimensional travel a publicly available privilege in your world."
Even Luna's eyebrows rose in surprise at that. "Publicly available? I would think secrecy was important to the protection of this World Order."
Michael frowned. "It was, once, but a threat got loose once that very nearly destroyed all worlds, and it was thanks to the courage of a young man and his friends that we were saved. It came at a great cost though, and to this day he still searches for the friend he lost during that adventure. Due to this the existence of the multiverse at large was exposed." He sighed. "That entire situation was a disaster. We would have helped, but we were quite literally locked into our own world by the monster that caused it. We could do nothing but watch as darkness nearly consumed everything." He straightened after a while. "So now we police the multiverse more openly, and offer newly discovered worlds a safe way to travel between the worlds."
"Surely there must be a catch. A price," Luna said. "There is no such thing as a gift without a price, even if that price is one the gift giver pays."
Michael nodded. "The price is that Equestria must sign an agreement that makes any traveler adhere to the World Order while outside their world. Equestria will not unduly attempt to expand into other worlds without proper need, and even then must do so peacefully through us. Your currency will be evaluated for exchange rates, which will allow us to levy a tax on anyone who makes use of inter-dimensional travel through our own methods." He held up his hands in a "hold" motions. "Don't worry, the tax is only one method. There are others we can negotiate, but you were correct in stating there is a price. It's either apply the tax, or make it a direct payment whenever the travel stations are used."
Celestia sighed. "Joy. More work." She drew herself up. "Very well. Let's get started on this."
A few days later saw Twilight reading a newspaper in disbelief.
NEW WORLDS, NEW HORIZONS
As many of you know, the Princesses announced during both of their court times that a press conference was to be held, yesterday by the time you, our readers, will be reading this. During this press conference the Princesses, Celestia and Luna, revealed quite the bombshell. We are not alone in reality. In fact, we are an infinitely small part of reality.
Now, obviously, a claim like that would require some proof. Said proof was a live human of all things, and one that claimed he not only comes from another world, but is a member of a military force dedicated to preserving what he called the World Order. Michael Andrews, the humans, explained that Princess Celestia had discovered a means to travel between dimensions, garnering the attention of the military force Michael Andrews is a part of. Afterwards he had confronted our Princess secretly and offered her the chance the put Equestria on the multiversal map.
This reporter personally asked how such an inclusion could benefit Equestria, and how the rest of the multiverse benefited from our inclusion.
"Yours is a world of magic. Not just any magic though, but potent magic. Magic is a rare force out there in the multiverse, and one wars have been fought over. I won't deny that my hope is some of you ponies choose to join the Peacekeepers. That is how we benefit from Equestria joining the multiverse. How do you benefit? Well, besides the obvious sense of adventure I can see shining in the eyes of nearly every pony here, I can guarantee you that out there is some forms of magic you likely have never even come close to discovering yet. Magic may be rare, but wherever it can be found tends to have extraordinary magics. You could all learn a great deal from information exchange alone. Another benefit is the allies you could make, an additional protection against the variety of monsters and creatures that threaten you all."
This was his response.
As Twilight continued to read a question was growing in her mind. Did this happen because we went to that game?' she wondered.
The paper continued to detail how eventually every major city in the country would have a building dedicated to housing the portal that would take anypony to another world. Each Portal Station would be manned and maintained by a member of the Peacekeepers, the military in charge of policing the multiverse, and that anypony that chose to make use of the portal would pay a fee for each use. The fee wasn't cheap, but it wasn't expensive either. Anypony could afford it with a bit of work.
For now though, only Canterlot would have a functioning Portal Station for trial purposes.
Twilight put the paper back on the kitchen table and sighed. She had no idea that going to a poker game of all things would result in such a radical change to their own world.