Twilight strolled down Mane Street happily, because for the first time in quite a while, Princess Celestia had given her a short break from her usual hefty workload. Not that the eggheaded mare began to dislike her studies, but rather that even she needed a break from the non-stop reading and reporting. She had a little bounce in her trot, waved to anypony that looked at her, and even though she'd be embarrassed if anypony saw, gave a little twirl when she arrived at her library's door. Twilight opened the door with her magic, and trotted inside.
"Hey, Twilight..." Spike greeted the mare with a hint of disappointment.
Twilight stopped. "What's wrong Spike?"
Spike stepped to the side and pointed to the package on the table.
"Princess Celestia sent this for you..."
Twilight smile faded, but she picked it back up into a small grin. Then she noticed Spike hanging his head, probably blaming himself for ruining her good day. She trotted over to him and wrapped her foreleg around his shoulder.
"Aww, don't worry about it, Spike. I'm used to pop quizzes and such, it's no big bother anyway, what I'm more concerned about is how you coughed up something that big."
Spike looked at the package that was about the size of his head.
"Oh no, actually, the mail-pony dropped it off. But I don't think it's a book, Twilight. It looks too big, even for your type of books." Spike explained.
Twilight looked at the package curiously. "You're right Spike, let's see what it is."
The two moved over to the package and Twilight tore off the paper with her magic and opened the cardboard box. The first thing she saw was a scroll and another package, this time wrapped in much older paper and twine. She decided to read the scroll first, breaking its seal an unrolling it.
As you know I take an interest in the vast culture and history of our world, and this time I decided to let you examine this piece of Neighgyptian history. Inside this package, is a relic called the Sennen Puzzle, which is known to be the most difficult puzzle in the entire world. In the three-thousand years it's existed nopony has ever been able to solve it, but I believe that you are the pony who can do it. But I must tell you that this is no ordinary game, Twilight. This puzzle is said to have a great magical power sealed inside it. That is why I want you to complete the puzzle, and report to me anything you find out about it. But take great caution, Twilight, as the magic is also said to be unpredictable and dangerous.
By the time Twilight was done reading, her enormous smile had returned. She anxiously tore off the paper containing the mysterious puzzle and gazed in amazement at what she saw. Inside the paper was a golden box covered in ancient writing, with hardly any scratches or dents, and in the middle of the front side, there was the Eye of Horsus, the Neighgyptian symbol of protection. Twilight stared at the box in awe for a few seconds before lifting the top off of it and looking inside. What she found was at least a hundred golden pieces of a 3D puzzle, and they mostly all looked completely different, the only similar pieces Twilight immediately noticed must be the four corner pieces, as her mind was already busy solving the puzzle. As she began levitating pieces and putting her brain to full use, Spike needed to wave his claw in front of her face to tell her that there was a knock at the door.
Twilight was only able to put two pieces together when she had to put the puzzle down. She made her way over to the door an opened it to see Fluttershy.
"Oh, hello, Fluttershy, it's nice to see you!" Twilight greeted her friend.
"Hello, Twilight." She looked inside and noticed the open package, then let her hair fall in front of her face and looked down. "Oh, are you busy? You look like you're doing something, I don't want to bother you..."
Twilight stopped her worrying. "Oh no, it's nothing important, just doing a little puzzle. What brought you over here?"
Fluttershy stood up straight and spoke her business.
"Oh, well, um... this is my old... friend, Bolter, from flight camp who just moved here to be on the weather control team." She motioned to the stallion next to her that Twilight didn't even notice. He was a huge, bulky pegasus with a dark gray coat and black mane, and his expression insisted that he'd rather be anywhere else but here.
"Yeah, hi. I thought you said you were bringing me to Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy." He gave her an irritated look.
"Um... of course, we are, but, I just want- needed! to stop here first, it should only take a minute, I promise..."
He scoffed and walked inside, bumping Twilight on the shoulder as he did. Twilight looked at him in disbelief as he was examining the table and its contents. She turned worriedly back toward Fluttershy.
"Fluttershy, is there a problem?"
She looked a bit embarrassed but mostly she was nervous. "Um... actually Twilight, yes."
It was later in the evening when Fluttershy returned to Twilight's after dropping off her 'friend' on Rainbow Dash, though she felt terrible about leaving her real friend with such an awful stallion.
"A bully!?" Twilight was shocked.
Fluttershy was quick to avoid conflict. "No no I don't want to label him and it was so long ago and we were little kids and he was probably just shy like me and-"
Twilight cut right in.
"Fluttershy stop right now. You can't have that mentality about these kinds of ponies. I know you're not the confronting type but you have to tell him never to talk or be near you again."
Fluttershy's eyes widened. "Um... no. I can't."
Twilight was upset that she was going to avoid standing up for herself, but she was prepared to lecture. Until Fluttershy kept talking.
"But it's not because I'm scared to. It's because maybe he is different now, even if he's... unpleasant, so was Discord, and Princess Luna, and probably lots of other ponies that changed their ways, and I think my kindness might have an effect, especially since Rainbow Dash asked me to give him a tour of the town. I'm sorry that I told you there was a problem, but, I think I can handle it, Twilight. But thank you for listening."
Twilight was unsure of Fluttershy's feelings about this stallion. but one thing Twilight knew was that when Fluttershy was sure of something, it meant that she was sure of it. She finally sighed and smiled.
"Ok, Fluttershy, if you think that's best, than, I'm not going to try and change your mind. But be careful around him, I'm just a little worried about you is all."
Fluttershy gave Twilight a smile which seemed to cheer her up a little, but then Fluttershy looked toward the table with a curious expression.
"Hey Twilight, what is that?" She raised a hoof toward the gold box sitting on the table. Twilight turned to look at it.
"Oh that! That's a new assignment from the Princess. It's supposed to be the world's most difficult puzzle, said to contain mysterious powers, but it really feels like a fun game than a homework assignment. I'm really anxious to complete it."
Fluttershy looked at the puzzle in wonder. "Twilight, could I see it closer, please?"
Twilight grew a little bit giddy that her friend was taking an interest, and was more than happy to lead her over to the table.
"Inside the box is something called the Sennen Puzzle. Supposedly the hardest puzzle in the world." Twilight opened the box to show her friend the multitude of golden puzzle pieces.
Fluttershy scanned over the box in curiosity. "Do you know what this writing means?"
"Actually, yes! I just finished translating it." Twilight used her magic to pick up a paper resting close to the box.
"It's split into two parts, first is a riddle, and the second is a description of the puzzle's power."
"What does the first part say?"
Twilight looked down at the paper. "Inside this box is something you can see, but also cannot. I still don't know the answer, but then again, I haven't really been focusing on it."
"Oh, I'm sure you'll figure it out soon."
Twilight smiled appreciatively. "But the second part is kind of creepier and mysterious. You wanna know what it says?" She looked at Fluttershy pleadingly.
Fluttershy looked nervous. "Um... Ok. What does it say?"
Twilight looked back down at the paper. "The one who solves me shall receive my dark knowledge and power. Isn't that chilling? But I also did a little research through my books related to Neighgypt, and the Sennen Puzzle is related to something called the Game of Darkness. This was a game involving magic, where the stakes were commonly life and death, but you could wager anything, really. The only absolute was that anyone who cheated would submit to the punishment decided for them by their opponent. And these punishments were fitting to the greatest impurities that existed in the pony who cheated. So they paid for their mistakes in the worst way possible."
Fluttershy took a step back. "Um, Twilight? You don't think that... this puzzle is... dangerous or anything, do you?"
Twilight laughed. "I really doubt it. It's just a story. Honestly, when I looked over the pieces, it seems like it forms a piece of jewelery. It even already has a string wrapped through a round piece to hang around a neck. Maybe the reason nopony has solved it in three thousand years is because it's not that important."
Twilight began to look a little doubtful. Fluttershy decided to reassure her, afraid of the puzzle as she was.
"Oh, I don't think so, Twilight. If it wasn't important, then the Princess wouldn't have tasked you with it, right?"
Twilight perked up. "You're right Fluttershy! This is obviously important to Princess Celestia, so I'm definitely going to complete it! Thank you so much."
Fluttershy smiled. "It's nothing, just try not to get obsessed with it, ok?"
Twilight returned the smile. "Oh, of course I won't get obsessed."
"ARRRGGH!! Why is this so hard!?" Twilight was good and fed up with the puzzle. It had now been a full twenty-four hours, yes, she was counting, and she was only halfway finished with it, even after working on it for half the night. Spike carefully approached her and even more cautiously tried to address her.
"Um... Twilight?" She didn't look away from her work. "Maybe... you should take a break... because the puzzle might be too hard for you to do in one go." Spike gulped, that sentence came out wrong. Twilight stopped dead and cocked her head.
"Too hard... for me?" She turned towards the dragon slowly. "Do you think I can't complete it?"
Spike was too busy stuttering in fear to say more than, "I-uhh may- uuuuuuh, n- um, no?" Mistake part two. Twilight looked like she was ready to explode. When she suddenly collapsed from exhaustion.
"You're right Spike, I shouldn't try to do anything this challenging so quickly. I have to pace myself."
Spike released the massive amount of breath he was holding in. "That's good. I was going to get more quill fountains since you blew through our last twenty, do you wanna come?"
Twilight smiled. "That's sounds fun."
"But you gotta admit, for a three-thousand year old puzzle that's never been completed, you've made amazing progress, Twilight! You'll be done with it in no time." Spike encouraged her.
"yes, I know... and thank you, Spike." She gave him a thankful smile.
Spike was delighted to receive appreciation. "No problem, Twi!"
The two were on their way home from Quills and Sofas after picking up a large supply of ink to keep Twilight stocked for, at best, a week. The crowds normally found around the stores were starting to die down since it was getting late, and the sky was growing dark. A yawn from Spike notified Twilight that they were probably done being out for the day. They were almost back at the library when Twilight heard a demanding voice by the well.
"Just go down and look for some."
Twilight didn't recognize the voice at first but she definitely recognized the second.
"Um... but there might not be any bits down there, because um... it's not a wishing well."
The other voice grew agitated. "Just check anyway! What is your problem?"
"Well, um... if my wings get wet, it might be kind of hard for me to fly, and I might get stuck in there."
Twilight was close enough now to make out their faces, though she already knew who they were. Fluttershy was looking straight down to avoid eye contact, while Bolter looked like he was about to go into a fit of rage. Spike tapped Twilight on her shoulder.
"Who is that guy?"
Twilight looked at Spike worriedly. "Someone very bad."
"You know what? Forget it. This just proves how useless you are."
Bolter raised his right leg and swung it into Fluttershy's shoulder, knocking her right of her hooves and flying onto the ground. Twilight's eyes went wide and she looked in horror as Bolter jumped up and flew away. When by the time she fell out of shock, he was already long gone. Twilight dashed over to Fluttershy and Spike followed.
"Fluttershy, are you ok!?"
The knocked down pegasus was struggling to get up using only one leg, until Twilight got under her and propped her up.
"Yes, I'm-I'm fine." Fluttershy had already begun crying, and as bad as it made Twilight feel, she needed to lay down a little law for Fluttershy's well being.
"This is what I was talking about, Fluttershy. I was worried that this was going to happen, and now you got hurt."
Fluttershy was able to respond. "I know... but Rainbow Dash needed me to show him Ponyville because she was really busy..."
Twilight was completely confused. "But why didn't you tell Rainbow about your history with him?"
Fluttershy looked down in shame. "...I thought she would think I was being a wimp, just like last night when I told you there wasn't a problem. I was trying to be more assertive... but I'm just not good at it..."
Twilight felt a little guilt. "Fluttershy, there's a difference between being a wimp and reaching out for help you need. If you told Rainbow about this she would have defended you immediately."
Fluttershy looked upwards hopefully. "Do you think so?"
Twilight put a hoof on her shoulder. "Yes, I do."
Fluttershy somehow managed to smile. "Then... I should go tell her, right?"
Twilight returned the smile. "I think that would be smart."
Twilight was struggling to keep her eyes open as she focused on the Sennen Puzzle, which was nearing its completed form. She was able to make out that the finished product would look like an upside-down Neighgyptian pyramid. Also, it was in fact meant to be worn as a necklace, as the base of the pyramid held a ring to wrap a string through, which came included. There were only around ten or so pieces left to be put in, but Twilight needed a moment to shake herself awake. When she was ready to jump back into it, she heard baby dragon footsteps coming down the stairs.
Spike mumbled groggily. "Twilight? Are you still up? What are you-" He noticed the golden piece in Twilight's magic aura. "ugh, are you still working on the puzzle?"
Twilight sighed. "It's almost finished Spike, just a few more seconds! I have it all figured out!" She gave him a pleading look.
Spike gave in. "Fine, let's see you finish it."
Twilight turned right back toward the puzzle and put in another piece. She counted down in her mind. Nine, eight, seven... "Three!... Two! only one more piece, Spike! The spot in the front."
Twilight was saving the best for last, the most interestingly shaped hole in which the piece that must fit it has seven spikes around it and have two lines that lead up to the base of the pyramid. She reached to the box with her hoof, not taking her eyes off the puzzle to grab the last piece. Suddenly her body went cold, and her expression went dead. She quickly snapped her gaze toward the golden box and scanned all through and around it. The final piece was missing. Twilight started freaking out inside and Spike was afraid she was going to break down. Her mind raced with all the possibilities. The piece couldn't have been missing all along because she remembered what it looked like. It was the only piece adorned with the Eye of Horsus like the box, and it covered about half the surface of the puzzle, so it was recognizable. She didn't drop it or leave it anywhere. The only explanation is that somepony must've taken it. And there were only two ponies who knew about the puzzle. Twilight was sure that it wasn't Fluttershy. She shoved the puzzle into her saddlebag, threw it on her back, and raced out the door to Fluttershy's house, hoping that she would know where Bolter was.
Fluttershy yawned as she hovered downstairs to answer the loud knocking at her door.
"Yes, I'm coming. Goodness, who could it be this late?" When she opened the door, she was met face to face with Bolter. Fluttershy's eyes widened in alarm as she fell down onto her haunches.
"Wha- What are you doing here?"
Bolter trotted inside, and looked down on the frightened pegasus. "Rainbow Dash told me earlier that I was fired. Any idea why?"
Fluttershy bit her lip in fear. She was searching the room for a way out when she noticed a shiny gold object that was too big to be a bit under Bolter's right wing.
"What is that?" She pointed to the puzzle piece.
Bolter looked down at his wing, then grew angrier as he turned back to Fluttershy.
"What does this matter to you? And I already asked you a question!"
Fluttershy steeled her nerves. "That... That doesn't belong to you. It's Twilight's."
Bolter cocked his head and slowly moved towards Fluttershy, who started to back away in response.
"Well I know something that has your name on it."
Fluttershy grew panicked. "Wh-What?"
Twilight galloped hastily toward the outskirts of Ponyville. When she reached the trail that led to the cottages, she skidded on the dirt and dashed in the new direction. She skidded again, this time to a stop when she saw Bolter leaving Fluttershy's cottage. Her concern for her friend quickly outgrew her care for the puzzle, and she darted inside to find Fluttershy lying on the floor.
"Fluttershy! What happened!? Are you ok!?" She rushed over to her, dropped her saddlebag, and scanned over her body. There were red and black marks everywhere, including cuts, but what worried Twilight most was the stream of blood flowing down Fluttershy's face from the top of her head. It passed through her eye and down to her neck.
"Did he do this to you!? Oh, Fluttershy, it's my fault, isn't it?"
Fluttershy moaned and opened her eyes a crack.
"...not... your fault..."
Twilight started to tear up at the sight of her injured friend. Then she noticed Fluttershy's foreleg starting to move towards her, and in her hoof was the last piece of the Sennen Puzzle. Twilight stared at it in relief and suddenly guilt. She also saw Fluttershy gather enough strength to talk clearer.
"He stole it... I know you... wanted to finish it... let me see you... put in... the last piece..." Twilight saw that Fluttershy was looking at the near completed Sennen Puzzle that had fallen out of her saddlebag when she dropped it. Twilight was tempted to complete the puzzle, but was more worried about Fluttershy's condition. She started to lose her strength and fell back into unconsciousness.
"Fluttershy, I can't-" She suddenly stopped, and turned towards the Sennen Puzzle.
Twilight didn't move at first. Her gaze was fixed on the puzzle. Despite how much she wanted to take Fluttershy to the hospital, she couldn't look away. She felt like she was being drawn in. At one point she swore that the puzzle had called her name. Without realizing it, Twilight picked up the last piece, the largest and most interesting piece, with her magic and began floating it through the air toward the puzzle. The world seemed to stop around her and everything lost perspective, even her friend lying next to her seemed unimportant, as she slid the last piece of the Sennen Puzzle into its slot. Before she had time to admire the finished product, the puzzle began to glow bright, and a beam of light shot out of the eye onto Twilight's forehead, engulfing her in its power.
Bolter trotted alone down the abandoned street of the marketplace. He muttered in frustration, thinking about what he would do next. He doubted that somepony as scared as Fluttershy would report him, so he didn't think he needed to bail town. His thoughts were interrupted by hoof beats coming from behind him. When he turned around, suddenly the buildings and all of the lights were gone, and when he turned back around, he realized that he was surrounded by darkness. As he grew nervous, a little ball of light grew bigger as it approached.
The light shone brighter as the Sennen Puzzle came into focus, and as the light moved outwards, Twilight's face came into view. Her mane, which normally ended with flat bangs, had become jagged and spiky, and instead of the normal violet, her irises were crimson red. Her mouth pointed upwards in a wicked smile, along with the dark auras that irradiated from her eyes and horn just like the last time she used dark magic, only this time they were pure black and dark purple, and they engulfed her in a mist of shadows.
A voice full of confidence and certainty rang out from Twilight's mouth. "So, you who would so easily and carelessly harm another, are you ready?"
Bolter was caught off guard and a bit frightened. "Ready for what?"
Twilight's smile grew deeper and she stared into his eyes with evil passion.
"It's game time."
"Game time? You want to play a game?"
"Yep." The aura surrounding Twilight faded away and she leaned carelessly to the side with her forelegs crossed. Her wicked smile regressed into a confident smirk. "If you win, you get this."
A bag flew through the air from Twilight's side and landed on a small table that appeared out of nowhere with a loud slam, along with the sound of metal clinking. It was obvious to Bolter that the bag was full of bits.
"If I win, you leave this town forever. Deal?"
Bolter eyed the bag greedily as he contemplated the intentions of this mare.
"Ok, fine. We'll play a game."
Twilight's unnerving smile reappeared. "Fantastic. Sit down."
The two ponies sat down in suddenly present stools as Twilight threw ten bits on the table, each an equal distance from each other. Then her expression evened out as she explained the rules.
"These bits are all marked with a value, zero, one, two, three, or four. and there are two of each kind. We each take turns picking a bit until they are all gone. The winner is the one with the highest sum of the values. Simple, right? Well, enough for you, anyway."
Bolter's eyes narrowed at the caustic mare. "Yeah, i get it. And I'm going first."
Twilight leaned back. "Your move then."
Bolter reached out and picked up a bit. "One."
Twilight used her magic to flip a bit over. "I also have a one."
Bolter picked another. "Three!"
Twilight flipped her second. "Zero."
Bolter snorted. "Looks like this is backfiring on you, huh?"
Twilight seemed unfazed. "The game continues."
The drawings went back an forth, some good some bad for both, until the last two coins were left on the table, and the two players were tied at eight.
Twilight gave Bolter the facts. "The only two values left is a four and a zero, and since it's your move, the game is up to you."
Bolter glared angrily, but soon began to look back and forth between the bits. The only two left were the end pieces, that were now the farthest away two bits could possibly be. Eventually, he reached out and flipped the bit on his left.
Twilight chuckled."That's too bad." She flipped the final bit without looking at it. Four. "I win."
Bolter filled with anger as he kicked the table toward Twilight, who jumped back to avoid being hit. He grabbed the bag of bits off the ground with his teeth and made a break for it into the darkness. The wicked grin reappeared once more as Twilight sent a bolt of black lightning into the darkened sky above her. Instantly, two chains with shackles on the end shot out from the cloudy blackness a grabbed Bolter by the base of his wings, yanking him back onto the ground and throwing the bag from his mouth.
He cried in pain. "What are these things!?"
Twilight casually trotted past him, picking up the bag of bits with her dark aura that once again enveloped her. He became utterly speechless when he noticed the golden eye illuminated on her forehead.
"These things, are your reckoning, Bolter." The shackles grew tight and began to pull back. Bolter cringed and shouted out in pain.
"What are you doing!?" He begged to be answered.
Twilight turned to meet him eye to eye. "You really shouldn't have cheated, because this is the consequence. The game of darkness exists to show a pony's true character, and you are a greedy, careless stallion who would quickly put the life of another in danger for his own gain. If you haven't already hurt them enough as it is. But before you put others at risk, you should be prepared to risk something of your own."
The shackles yanked back on Bolter's wings, bringing out tears and painful whines. Twilight turned away from the defeated stallion, and began to trot into the darkness.
"The door of darkness, has been opened."
As Twilight faded through the black mist, the chains pull back with extreme force, and Bolter screamed in agony as his bones cracked, and his wings were torn off.
The general noise that had populated Fluttershy's hospital room had died down enough for Fluttershy's voice to be heard.
"...Then I just kind of blacked out. I suppose that's when Twilight brought me here."
Rainbow was the first to speak. "I never would've let him on my team if I had known he was so bad, Fluttershy, I'm really sorry about all this."
Fluttershy wasn't holding a grudge on anypony. "It's ok, Rainbow Dash, I don't blame you or anypony."
Rarity seemed shocked. "Oh but darling, surely you're not so forgiving of somepony so horrid. If knew where this stallion was I'd put him in the hospital myself!"
Pinkie Pie cut in from her ramblings in the corner. "Fluttershy! What color balloons do you want for your get well party!? I have pink and yellow, obviously, but also green and blue and purple and red and- OHHHHH, wait! I think I still have those color changing balloons! That will solve EVERYTHING!"
Rainbow seemed to remember something important. "Actually, Rarity, somepony already beat you to it. It's all around the hospital, he was admitted this morning screaming about how bad his back hurt, and that he lost his wings."
Due to the obvious confusion floating around the room, Applejack felt it necessary to ask the question.
"Well did he?"
Rainbow shook her head. "Nope. Nothing missing or even wrong with them. I heard that they were gonna move him to a psychiatric ward."
Fluttershy somehow seemed concerned. "Oh how awful. I mean, sure what he did was wrong, but, I wouldn't wish something like that on anypony."
Twilight smiled at her injured friend's compassion. "You're right, Fluttershy, I wouldn't either."
Fluttershy returned the smile. "Oh, Twilight, did you ever figure out the answer to that riddle?"
Rarity piped in. "What riddle?"
Fluttershy informed her. "There was a riddle connected with the um... Sennen, Puzzle?" Twilight nodded in confirmation. "Inside is something you can see, but also cannot."
The group of friends contemplated the riddle as Twilight shook her head no.
"I think the answer was friendship. Because you can see it in each other, but you can't actually see friendship itself. If you think about it, the puzzle was what made you rush to my house, right? So without it, you wouldn't have been able to help me."
Twilight took a moment to think about what Fluttershy said. She hadn't noticed anything special about the Sennen Puzzle, even though she started wearing it everywhere, despite Rarity's insistence to the contrary, since it didn't match anything. But maybe that's why Celestia gave it to Twilight to begin with. Everything Twilight did that night, maybe it all boiled down to friendship... right?