Roll For Initiative
“Thanks for getting here early,” Twilight said as she took her seat at the end of the table. “I have something I need to tell you before we begin.”
Rainbow Dash scoffed and rolled her eyes. “If this is about snacks again, we all remembered to bring something this time. There’s plenty for everypony.”
Twilight shook her head. “That’s not it.” Sighing heavily, she continued, “I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
The other sounds at the table—the gentle scratching of paper being distributed, rustling of snack foods being poured into bowls, and clacking of dice being test rolled—died out as the rest of the group gave Twilight their undivided attention.
Twilight took another breath and opened her mouth to speak, but she stopped when the kitchen door opened and Spike walked in, carrying an extra chair. As the ponies watched in silence, he set it in an empty space at the table.
“What?” he asked in response to their stares.
Applejack smiled at him and said, “You gonna be joinin’ us tonight, sugarcube?”
Spike waved a claw dismissively as he turned his back to the table. “No way. That game is dumb. It’s just a bunch of talking. Besides,” he added, turning his head toward the table again, “it makes dragons look like a bunch of evil pony-eating monsters. I’ll just stick to my comics. At least they let me see what’s happening.”
Twilight shook her head as Spike settled down in his corner. “Anyway, about that bad news—”
“Before you get to that,” Rarity interjected, “are we expecting somepony else?” She motioned toward the empty chair.
“Actually, that’s the bad news. You see, I got a letter from Princess Celestia yesterday—”
Pinkie gasped. “Is she the one who’s gonna be joining us? How is that bad? Does she know how to play? It would be bad if she didn’t, but we could teach her, and then I could throw a party to celebrate, and we could have dice-shaped balloons, and the cake could be a super big, tasty copy of her character sheet, and we could play new fun games like Pin the Tail on the Shambling Horror!”
Staring at Pinkie through narrowed eyes, Twilight said, “Are you done?” Pinkie nodded. “To answer your question, no, it won’t be Princess Celestia.”
“It’s going to be Princess Luna.”
“I don’t get it,” Applejack said after a moment of silence. “Why’s that a problem? We’ve spent time with the princesses before.”
“Actually, I’m not even sure what the problem is going to be,” Twilight said, rubbing the back of her head. “As I was saying, I got a letter from Princess Celestia telling me that Luna would be joining us.” The letter appeared in a purple flash. “She said she tried to talk Luna out of it, but she wouldn’t listen.”
“That does sound bad,” Fluttershy muttered.
Rainbow made a show of groaning and she leaned back in her chair. “Are we gonna have to teach her how to play?”
Twilight’s eyes flicked across the letter hovering next to her head. “No. She apparently has experience.”
“Well, that’s good.”
“Yeah,” Applejack said as she poured baked apple chips into a bowl. “I reckon that’ll speed things up, but I gotta wonder when she learned to play. She ain’t been back from the moon all that long, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t have games like this a thousand years ago.”
“Actually, Celestia’s letter answers that question,” Twilight said as the parchment vanished. “After returning from the moon, Luna was sequestered in the castle for several months while she regained her strength. During that time, she learned to play from some of the guards, one of whom was my own brother.”
“He still plays after all these years?” Rarity asked.
Rainbow cut off Twilight's reply. “Forget about that. We should just ask him what’s wrong with Princess Luna joining our game.”
“I already did that,” Twilight said. “He sent me a letter back, but all it said was, ‘My condolences. Sorry, sis, but you’re on your own.’”
“Oh dear.” Fluttershy shrank further into her seat.
Rainbow leaned farther back in her chair, tilting its legs until the only thing holding it up was the soft beating of her wings. “If nopony will tell us what’s wrong, I say we just forget about it. I mean, what’s the worst can happen? Her character dies, and she turns back into Nightmare Moon?”
Fluttershy sank so far into her chair that she might as well have been trying to hide under it. Applejack and Rarity went wide-eyed in shock. The color drained from Twilight’s face, and even Pinkie looked uncharacteristically pensive.
The awkward silence was shattered by the thunderous noise of a hoof striking the front door. Fluttershy tried to dive under her chair, only to find that Pinkie Pie had beaten her there. Twilight, Applejack, and Rarity all jumped up and stared at the door, while Rainbow’s wings locked up and her chair came crashing down to the floor.
Spike rolled his eyes and stood up. “Jeez, you guys… It was just somepony knocking.” The ponies had barely started picking themselves up when he opened the door. “Hey, Princess Luna! Come on in.”
“Thank you, Spike.” Luna stepped through the door, ducking to avoid banging her horn on the frame. Once inside, she stood up to her full height and looked around the room. “Aha!” she exclaimed upon spotting Twilight and her friends sitting around the table. One seemed to be missing, though. “It’s a pleasure to see you all again. But tell me, where is Fluttershy?”
“On it!” Pinkie reached down and dragged Fluttershy from beneath her seat. “If you’re going to hide, you should hide under your own chair.”
“But you were already under mine.”
“No excuses, young filly. Now go hide under your own chair,” Pinkie said, pointing to the empty space beneath the seat to her right.
“Young? I’m a year—Oh, never mind.” Fluttershy was half-concealed when Twilight’s magic grabbed her tail and pulled her back out.
“No hiding! Sit at the table.”
Her ears flat and lip quivering, Fluttershy climbed onto the chair, whimpering all the while.
“There,” Twilight said. “Now, let’s get organized. We saved you a seat, Princess Luna.”
Grinning manically, Luna trotted over to the table with a metal briefcase, held tightly in the grip of her magic, and plopped down on her seat. She dropped the heavy case onto the table, sending the loose dice and papers flying. A series of clicks echoed through the library as she opened a series of magical locks and disabled its traps.
“Princess Luna—” Twilight began.
“Just Luna when we’re playing, please.” More locks disengaged as the others collected the dice from the floor.
“Right. Luna”—Twilight paused for a moment to re-stack her papers—”we need to know how experienced you are. I mean, you can’t have been playing very long, and I have to figure out how much you can handle.”
The final lock on the briefcase snapped open, and the lid rose with a hiss. Inside, there was a stack of papers and a bag of dice. “As you can see,” Luna said, “I have plenty of experience.”
“Hoo-wee!” Applejack shouted as she looked at the pile of laminated character sheets. “How many of those have you played so far?”
“All of them, of course!”
Pinkie appeared over Luna’s shoulder. “Wow! You must die as much as Dashie if you’ve gone through all of those since you got back.”
Luna scoffed. “I’ll have you know that none of my characters have ever perished.”
“I bet you use a different character for every game, right?” Rainbow said.
“Also not true. I have used each of these on many occasions,” Luna answered, beaming as she looked around the table.
Twilight held up a hoof. “Wait a second. You’ve only been back a short time, so how did you manage to use that many characters?”
“By playing nearly every night, of course!” Luna picked up the stack of papers and started rifling through them. “Now… which one to use…”
“Every… night?” Twilight mumbled. “I think I’m starting to see what Shining’s letter meant.”
Luna’s ears perked at the mention of his name. “Shining Armor has told you of our games, has he? ‘Tis only natural, of course, that he should regale his sister with grand tales of our epic adventures. What did he tell you in the letter you spoke of?”
Twilight’s ears fell, and she looked around the table at her friends, all of whom were fidgeting nervously. With a forced, shaky chuckle, she said, “Oh, you know. He was just talking about… um… about... how much he’s missed playing with you since he moved to the Crystal Empire.”
Luna put a hoof to her chin and allowed a few seconds to pass in thoughtful silence before responding. “Yes, you’re quite right. I will rectify this inequity tomorrow night by visiting him at his new home to continue our previous game. Perhaps Cadance will wish to join us as well!”
Twilight tapped on the table to get everypony’s attention. “I think that’s enough chit-chat for now. We should get started. Luna, which char—” Another knock at the door interrupted her, and a dangerous growl started to build in Twilight’s throat as Luna bounded up from her chair and trotted to the door.
“Don’t be alarmed. ‘Tis only my contribution to the night’s refreshments.”
She opened the door and stepped aside as a dozen ponies walked in. The first one set up a folding table near the kitchen door, and the rest laid a variety of exotic salads, soufflés, pies, and puddings on top of it.
Luna trotted back to the others as the servers departed. “There! Now we no longer need these cheap snacks.” She snatched up the various bowls, as well as the tray of cupcakes Pinkie had provided, in her magical aura.
The rest of the group looked on in stunned silence, but Pinkie recovered when Luna started tipping the bowls and trays over the trash can. “Not the cupcakes!” she screamed as she bolted toward the impending snackicide.
Luna turned around to see who had yelled, drawing her attention away from the sight of Pinkie Pie catching the treats in her mouth. With a shrug, she set the unburdened dishes on the kitchen counter and returned to the table.
She looked around the table and noted Pinkie’s absence, but before she could comment on it, a belch from the kitchen drew her attention away.
Nopony was there.
Luna turned back to the table and found that Pinkie Pie had reappeared, her mouth ringed with crumbs. She grinned at Luna, then licked the crumbs away, but the moment they entered her mouth, her face turned green, and she was forced to shove a hoof into her own mouth.
“Shall we start now?” Twilight said, just loud enough to be heard through her face’s attempt to merge itself with the table.
“But of course,” Luna said as she sipped hot tea from one of Celestia’s cups.
“Okay,” Twilight said slowly, regaining her composure. “We need to know what class you’re playing. Do you want to make a new character or use an old one that’s level ten?”
Luna picked up the pile and started looking through it. “To expedite the process, I shall use an existing character.”
“Okay. I recommend using a rogue since the party doesn’t currently have one,” Twilight said, prompting a glower from Rainbow and a relieved sigh from Fluttershy.
Luna pulled a sheet from the pile. “Hm. I do have a character with ten levels in rogue.”
“Great. Let’s go with that one.” Twilight set her screen up. “Now, when we left off, you had walked into the final chamber of a forgotten tomb and encountered the king of the Windigos.”
“Welcome,” the windigo hissed. The voice didn’t come from it directly; instead, it spoke through movements of the air whipping around its chamber. “I have been expecting you.”
It stood up from its icy throne and snaked through the air toward the adventurers. Halfway there, it stopped and rose up toward the ceiling. A wall of ice formed behind the ponies. Around the walls, gusts of wind crashed together to form a harsh laugh as other currents whipped past their ears to form words. “Now, by my master’s command, you must die.”
“Master?” said the paladin. “Exactly who is this mas—”
“Die, knave!” shouted a red alicorn who had not been among the party only seconds prior. The undulating, gleaming silvery locks of her metal mane parted to expose her horn, and a beam of light spewed forth from it.
“What!” cried Twilight. She stood up and stamped a forehoof on the table. “No way! That absolutely did not happen!”
“Do not be such a poor sport, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said, grinning. The rest of the group facehoofed in unison.
“I’m not being a poor sport! Your character isn’t even there yet, and she’s a rogue, not a sorceress!”
Luna waved a hoof dismissively. “Of course she is. She does indeed have ten levels of rogue, but she also has twelve levels of sorceress.”
“Luna, this is a tenth level game! You can’t use a twenty-second level character!”
Her coat bristling, Luna stood up. “You approved my character, did you not?”
Twilight cringed slightly, but held her ground. “Yes, but you weren’t clear about what that character was.”
Narrowing her eyes, Luna said, “Are you calling me a liar, Twilight Sparkle?”
“No! Of course not!”
“Good. Then let us resume the game.” Luna sat back down, once again smiling.
Twilight also sat back down. After putting her screen back in place, she restarted the game. “All right. Now, the new party member has not been introduced yet, and since that attack couldn’t have happened, let’s go back to what the windigo king was saying.”
Luna narrowed her eyes again. “Are you calling my character a liar, Twilight Sparkle?”
This time, Twilight joined the rest of the group in their synchronized facehoof.
“By the way,” Luna added, “my character is twenty-ninth level, not twenty-second. She has seven levels of fighter.”
As the windigo king reeled from the red alicorn’s attack, she turned to face the rest of the group. “Greetings to thee, fair adventurers. I am Nightshade, and I have been traveling amongst you for some time, hidden from thy vision by my skills in the art of stealth.”
“Seriously?” said Holy Roller.
“Yes, Sister Holy is quite right,” Light Hooves said. “Your story does strain the bounds of credibility a mite.”
“Do mind that strange accent you sometimes fall into, Sister Light,” Holy teased, poking her in the side.
Nightshade stepped forward and looked each of them in the eye. “Why doth thou doubt my claims?”
The paladin and cleric both recoiled under the alicorn’s glare, but were spared from further argument when the windigo rejoined the battle. The party drew their weapons and rushed in, but Nightshade deliberately held back.
Swirly was the first to act; a stream of flame lanced from her horn and washed over the monster.
“You cannot win,” the wind whispered as the windigo swooped down and touched Swirly, encasing her in a block of ice.
With the windigo so close to the ground, the rest of the party was able to make their moves. Holy Roller used her mace to shatter the ice imprisoning Swirly, who—thanks to her own protection spell—was unaffected by her brief exposure to the extreme cold. Crusher and Light Hooves both struck solid blows, but they hardly fazed the enemy, and Noble Gem couldn’t get close enough to do anything but play her lute.
Nightshade laughed at their efforts. “Come on! Thou canst do better than that. I could defeat this pathetic beast in my sleep.”
While her commentary drew grumbles from the other adventurers, it also drew the windigo’s attention. After suffering another direct hit from Swirly’s fire magic, it slipped away from the melee and engaged Nightshade, drawing upon a mysterious power—which had not existed until that moment, and could not be detected or destroyed by any means—to instantly triple its strength.
“Foolish creature!” she yelled as the windigo approached. “Thou hast entered into the range of my attacks!” The wire-like strands of her mane sprang forth and lashed out at the enemy.
Twilight opened her mouth to yell at Luna, but bit her tongue. After taking a moment to compose herself, she said, “Let me see your character sheet for a moment, please.”
Luna nodded, and Twilight’s magic snatched the paper. As her eyes scanned over it, her scowl deepened. “You have a weapon proficiency for your mane.” Luna nodded again, smiling. “It has an attack bonus of thirty-three.” Another nod. “And you don’t carry any other weapons.”
Twilight buried her face in her hooves as Luna reclaimed her sheet. “May I finally roll my attack now?”
As Luna’s magic gripped the dice, she added, “And after that, I’ll take my held action as well.”
Nighshade’s mane became a streak of gleaming silver and slashed across the windigo king. It tried to retaliate, but the alicorn pressed her advantage, lashing her metal hair back and forth across its body until, finally, the monster fell to the floor, defeated.
The wind in the room whispered once more, “You think you have won, but you know not what you face. This is but the beginning, for my master has risen, and none may challenge the might of—”
Nightshade’s mane whipped forth again and split the monster in half. As its body dissipated, the two halves of its cloven crown fell to the floor and shattered. The wind in the chamber stopped.
“Hey,” Swirly cried, “what in da world was you thinkings? We might’a needed the name dat thing was about to says.”
“Yeah, Nightshade, what gives?” Noble Gem said.
“Talking to it would be a waste of time,” Nightshade replied. “Come now. Let us find other foes to vanquish!”
Holy Roller sighed. “It doesn’t matter now. It’s already done. Let’s just collect the spoils of our victory and go back to the temple.”
Nightshade’s magic snatched up all of the treasure in the room at once and dropped it into her Saddlebag of Holding, then she trotted toward the door.
“Hey! What gives!” Holy yelled.
Stopping just outside the door to the windigo’s chamber, Nightshade said, “Dost thou not recall that it was I who slew the beast?”
“No, but we still helped!”
Swirly stepped forward to glare directly into Nightshade’s eyes. “Yeah! Are you plannings ta cuts us outta the loot?”
“I certainly hope not,” Light Hooves said.
“I agree.” Noble Gem stamped a hoof on the icy floor for emphasis. “Hogging the loot is not cool.”
All four turned to Crusher to see what he would say.
“Um… I don’t really mind.”
As the other four facehoofed—again—Nightshade laughed. “You see? It’s fine,” she said between chuckles. “Besides, I’m only going to keep what I can use. You’ll get all the rest.”
Nightshade continued on her way back to the exit, but the others lingered for a moment, and Holy whispered to Light, “She’s a fighter, rogue, and sorceress. Think there’s anything she can’t use?”
* * * * *
As the party traveled across the countryside, the land started to thaw around them, and by the time they reached the Temple of Trixie, the early summer climate had fully returned. The courtyard was abuzz with activity. On one side of the cobblestone path through the center, training dummies had been placed along the walls for target practice, while others were out in the open, being pummeled by acolyte monks. On the other side, students of less physical disciplines laid in the sunlight, reading books or listening to lectures from their seniors.
The party walked along the path and soon entered the temple’s sanctuary, where rows of pews faced an ornate pulpit, behind which stood a series of stained glass windows, each depicting one of Trixie’s greatest deeds, including her defeat of the Taurrusque, her conquest of Equestria’s largest water wheel, and—
Five voices rang out at once. “Twilight!”
Grinning sheepishly, Twilight said, “Oops. Got a little carried away there. Anyway—”
Luna looked up from her bowl of salad. “Who is this Trixie?” she asked, bits of lettuce and other assorted vegetables still crunching between her teeth.
Rainbow Dash groaned, but Rarity took pity on her and deflected the question. “It’s a rather long story. You really needed to be there in order to understand it. The important thing to know is that there’s a new goddess in the world named Trixie, and this is her temple.”
Twilight cleared her throat and pressed on. “You pass through the sanctuary, and the guards allow you access to the inner chambers. When you reach the high priest’s office, you are ushered inside and find him behind his desk.”
“Your Grace,” said Holy Roller as she entered the room, “you have some explaining to do.”
Shaking his head, a wan smile upon his lips, the high priest looked up at the party as they arranged themselves in a semi-circle around his desk and said, “I wasn’t expecting to see you again.”
Swirly leaned in close and stamped her hoof on the mahogany desk, leaving a deep imprint of her horseshoe. “I’ll just bets you wasn’t.” She raised her hoof again, but before she could bring it back down, it was wrapped in silver threads, and she was pulled away from the desk by Nightshade’s mane.
Nightshade stepped forward. “Thou hast much to answer for, fiend. First, thou built this blasphemous temple to a false god, and then thou sent this group of amateur adventurers to face a foe they could not possibly defeat!”
“Hey! We could have beaten it!”
Ignoring Noble Gem’s outburst, the high priest stared at Nightshade. “What would you know?” he barked. “You are an outsider with no place in these events! Who are you supposed to be, anyway?”
“Very well. I shall tell thee of myself. I am Nightshade, ruler of all forests, destroyer of the four great bandit cities, and slayer of King Sombra!”
“What?” Luna asked. “Why are you all looking at me that way?”
Twilight sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose, then looked up at Luna. “It’s just that in this game, they already killed King Sombra, so Nightshade couldn’t possibly have done that in this world.”
“There is no conflict,” Luna said. “In my previous game, King Sombra had become a lich when I killed him, so it makes sense that it happened after they killed his lesser form.”
Once more, the rest of the table performed a synchronized facehoof.
Rainbow went the extra mile and smacked her face a few extra times for good measure. “Lich King Sombra? Really? Who thought that was a good idea?”
“No kidding,” Pinkie agreed from her new position next to the food table, her voice muffled by the carrot cake stuffed into her mouth. “Regular old King Sombra was boring enough. Imagine how bad it would be if he was harder to kill.”
“Pinkie, dear,” Rarity said, “weren’t you too full to keep eating?”
“Yep! I can’t eat another bite!” Pinkie answered, right before shoving an entire pie into her mouth.
Meanwhile, Twilight surreptitiously erased “Lich King Sombra” from her notes.
“An impressive list of deeds, no doubt,” the high priest said. “However, even you are unprepared for the power that now rises in this land.”
Groaning, Nightshade pulled several locks of her hair together to form a spear. “I think we’ve heard enough of this.”
“Wait!” Light Hooves yelled as she threw herself between Nightshade and the priest. “We might still need information he possesses. Besides, I sense no evil nature in him.”
Holy Roller also stepped between them and held out a hoof surrounded by a golden glow. “It’s true. He’s not evil, but he is under some kind of curse.”
“Fine,” Nightshade muttered, letting her hair fall limp. “We’ll let him live for now, but I expect to get some useful information from him.”
Holy continued to scan the high priest. “Actually, it looks like he can’t tell us anything the one who cursed him doesn’t want us knowing.”
“Then he’s useless.” The spear formed atop Nightshade’s head once more.
“No!” the rest of the party shouted in unison.
“Crusher say we find source of curse and smash.”
Swirly nodded. “I agrees wit Crusha.”
Nightshade continued to brandish her spear. “If we don’t know where to look, it would be pointless. Killing him is a much more effective solution!”
“Not necessarily,” Holy Roller said. “I can sense that the curse is bonded to something else. It's somewhere to the southwest.”
“It’s probably the new great bandit city that was built recently,” said a guard outside the door who had conveniently overheard everything but, even more conveniently, had not bothered to try to stop the adventurers or get help when the life of the high priest was threatened.
“A new great bandit city!” Nightshade exclaimed, her eyes gleaming to match her grin. “Come along! We must destroy it at once!”
“Unfortunately, assaulting a city would take too long for tonight,” Twilight said. “I know it’s a little early, but this is the best point to stop, so we’ll have to continue this next week.”
The cleanup passed in near-total silence, with every attempt to speak being stopped by a terse shake of Twilight’s head. The only consistent noise was Luna’s humming as she oversaw the servants who came in to remove the leftovers from the feast she brought.
Finally, they all stood at the door, ready to go. “See you all at the same time next week,” Twilight said.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Luna said. “This was the most fun I’ve had since Shining Armor moved to the Crystal Empire!”
“Speaking of which, you did say you’re going to visit him there tomorrow night, right?”
“Indeed! I’ll also be bringing the other guards who played in our last game, that we might resume our adventure.”
As Twilight opened the door to see them out, she said, “I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to see you. See you all later!”
The following night, Twilight called her friends over again. Once they were all seated at the table, she began, “I think we can all agree that last night didn’t go well.”
Rarity scoffed. “Darling, I think we can all agree that you’ve just made the understatement of the year.”
“Yeah,” said Rainbow, “that was completely ridiculous! Nopony else could get a word in or do anything with Luna around.”
Applejack scowled beneath her stetson, which was pulled lower than usual. “Agreed. If this is gonna keep happenin’, there’s no point in even playin’.”
“I agree,” muttered Fluttershy.
Rainbow leaned back in her chair and crossed her forelegs. “And adding in that bandit city is just gonna make things worse. Now she’s all excited about coming back, and that’s gonna make her more pushy than ever.”
“Actually, girls, that’s part of my plan,” Twilight said, grinning mischievously. “One way or another, Luna won’t be a problem after next week.”
“What do you have in mind?” Rarity asked.
“Well, to start with—” Twilight was interrupted by a belch from the next room.
“Letter for you, Twilight,” Spike yelled as he ran into the room. Twilight grabbed the scroll with her magic and unrolled it only to drop it moments later, her concentration shattered by a fit of raucous laughter. One by one, the others picked up the letter and joined in the hysterics until the entire group was rolling around on the floor, leaving the unfurled parchment laying on the table.
I hate you.