• Published 1st May 2012
  • 2,219 Views, 143 Comments

Setting the Rules - fic Write Off

  • ...
1
 143
 2,219

Playtime

“I must admit, dear sister, you have fought valiantly. It is truly a shame it had to come to this.”

Princess Luna towered over Celestia, smirking with an unabashed, gleeful malice. She held her head high and spread her wings in further mockery. Her strut was slow and paced, allowing her to relish in every single solitary moment of this long-awaited moment. For this day, was a monumental one indeed. Her sister's reign was finally coming to an end.

All the plots and schemes she had conjured up over the years suddenly felt meaningless and mundane, compared to the stroke of luck that ended up ensuring Celestia's downfall. Luna could never erase her mocking smirk from her mind's eye, coupled always with those pathetic words of comfort, that always felt like an extra stab in the wound. Not that it mattered now. The last sliver of sunlight was soon to fade as well, only to be replaced by her glorious night, signaling the beginning of a new Lunar Age. Only one thing was left standing in her way: the whimpering wreck of once-proud alicorn.

“Please...Luna, you must have some semblance of mercy left in you,” Celestia said, her voice trembling. She could barely even look at her without the icy hoof of dread stampeding over her heart. “After all, are we not sisters?” she pleaded.

“Indeed we are.” She leaned down ever so slightly, putting herself close to eye-level with her huddling sister. “However, you have long played out your last chance at mercy.”

Her words made the alicorn whimper once more and retreat a little. They both knew, however, that there was no escape this time around. The centuries-long wrath of her younger sister was soon to be unleashed, surely spelling Celestia's doom. She had no one to turn to, nowhere to go and nothing to defend herself with. Her sister was holding all the cards and each of them promised a fate quite possibly worse than death.

I only wish Twilight Sparkle were here as well, to bear witness to the defeat of her beloved mentor,” Luna said, breaking out in a fit of self-gratifying giggles once more. The taste of victory was inebriating. She raised her head and a brilliant glimmer enveloped her horn, as she summoned her magic. “And now, Celestia, it's time I crushed you, like the pest you are!”

Luna smirked and pulled up the enchanted sliver of paper she'd been holding onto until now, reading it with a bright sense of amusement and satisfaction.

“Let's see...'Oh no, it's a Black Hole! Your star-pony struggles against it, but can't fly away fast enough! You must return to...the starting position...and...every other player gets an extra turn'!?”

The princess felt her legs give out from under her. She slumped to the ground, her spirit crushed. Her chin was hanging loose and the disbelief on her face was almost palpable. At the same time, Celestia switched the roles and rose high above her disheartened sister. Her smile was soothing, yet darkly satisfied at the same time.

“Aww and you were so close, too!” she teased, her words like a million icy javelins. “But cheer up, little sister, I'm sure you'll beat me someday.”

She saw the anger flashing in Luna's eyes and the blue flare of her horn igniting once more. Celestia immediately knew shouldn't have taunted her like that and closed her eyes, bracing for impact. The loud sound of cardboard ripping echoed through the chamber. When she opened her eyes again, she saw the lavishly painted image of a pony filly with a bowl over her head, keenly examining a small, inexplicably smiling star. She raised her hoof and pushed the gaming board aside to regain her vision at least.

“The card cheated! The game cheated!” Luna was growling and flaying around with her front hooves, as if she were trying to shoo away a cloud of flies. “You cheated!”

“I have no idea what you're talking about,” Celestia said, trying her best at damage control. “It was just an unlucky draw, it can happen to anypony.”

“Four times in just one day?” she said, fuming.

“I'm just having a lucky streak.” Celestia's horn started glowing, as she attempted to dislodge it from the ruined game board.

“No, you are not just 'having a lucky streak.'” Luna glared at her, her wings fluttering rapidly in futile anger, lifting her a couple of inches into the air. “You are manipulating this game. I have no idea how, but I swear this has your hoof in it.”

“Lulu, we have already been through this,” she sighed and gently put the board down again. “We have taken turns in shuffling the cards and you have personally examined the dice about five times already. I simply cannot cheat.” Celestia shook her head and smiled in the most gentle and loving manner in existence.

She continued to smile even as she saw Luna's eyes sharpen and her front hooves twitch.


Buckler was feeling quite good about himself right now. A promotion was well on its way and his current patrol route was nice and quiet, just as he liked it. Normally, he disliked night shifts, but this day had been good enough that not even this could quell his euphoria. Not to mention that as long as there was some chance he could come across that cute mare in the observatory, Cloudy Scope, it was worth it.

For now though, he just continued along his patrol route. His armor was repaired just recently, ridding him of the constant pain the slight dent on his flank had been causing him. With even that obstacle out of the way, he hardly had more concerns than to just follow along the trail of the smooth carpet and resist the childish urge to play hopscotch along the rectangular shapes adorning it.

A thunderous noise echoed across the hallway all of a sudden, followed by the sound of hoofsteps heading steadily his way. His first instinct was to reach for his trusty sword and rush to meet whatever intruder this may have been. He even adjusted his helmet to add to his stern appearance. In just a few moments though, he put two and two together. His patrol route, the time and even the pattern of the steps all clicked together.

Oh no...

Without a second to waste, Buckler took a look around, checking for any possible escape route. The closest door led straight into the treasury and though he did consider himself a national asset, the rest of the guards would have voiced their disapproval. He also would have had to trade in his chance at a promotion, for several days in the stockade.

The other possibility was no less scary though. Having to face Princess Luna while she was in the middle of a temper tantrum, was something even his wisest superiors considered a safety hazard. Guards patrolling past her bedchambers regularly received an unofficial safety grant and those who managed to catch a glimpse of her fury, told tales that regularly frightened even the most hard-boiled tavern rats.

With no other way out, Buckler made a wish and steadied his stance, walking straight towards the creeping darkness at the far end of the hallway. He was trembling so much his armor was rattling along with, but he pressed on nonetheless. Princess Luna was soon became clearly visible and just as irritated as her steps suggested. He sucked his breath in and continued, counting down the seconds till impact.

I'll need a drink after this.

Soon, he was but a few inches from the princess, who still had a look on her face that could have made any object explode on spot. As per protocol, he stopped and lowered his head, letting her pass by him. Every single inch felt like he was being dragged towards the edge of Tartarus, every second agonizing and testing the limits of his resolve. Very little prevented him from just bolting off, like a cowardly mouse.

Screw that, I'm gonna drink till I can't find my own horn.

Her spread wings passed over his head, the way they blocked all light for just a second truly bringing him far too close to a mental breakdown. Buckler managed to hold on though and as she finally passed by, he very slowly let his breath seep through his set teeth, trembling all over. He had done it. He was officially the bravest stallion in Equestria and nopony could ever take this glory from him.

“Guardspony, there is something I wish to ask of you.”

Ponyfeathers.

Albeit with the weight of a full battalion on his shoulders, he turned around to face her. She folded her wings back, which was indeed a good sign, although her scowl was decidedly less promising.

“Have you ever heard of the game 'Galaxy Gallop'?” she asked, her voice as serious as if they were discussing politics and the likes.

Buckler was baffled, to say the least. He expected a number of questions, most of them centered around whatever she may have found confusing, compared to a thousand years ago, but never one about a foal's board game. Nonetheless, it would have been very unwise to try and bring this fact to her.

“Yes, Your Highness.” he said. He had to admit that despite all the horror stories, she was definitely not a sight for sore eyes.

“Do you like playing it?”

The guard raised a brow, thankfully hidden by the design of his helmet. Galaxy Gallop was a fun little board game, but he was long past the age of caring about something like that.

“I...haven't played it for a while now, but I remember it being fun.” he said, choosing to go with the most diplomatic answer he could possibly think of.

“What's the easiest way to win, if you start from the Moon?”

“The Moon? Why would you ever want to start there?” he asked. Every child knew that out of the two starting position, the Moon was designed to trap and punish unfamiliar players. “It's impossible, you'd never?”

The unicorn never even got to the end of the sentence and already he felt like biting his own head off. Her shoulder fell and he could clearly see the sadness in those beautiful eyes. Princess of the Night, Princess Luna, of course she would have wanted to start from there!

“Er, what I meant is,” he said, coughing lightly to cover up his mishap, “players who start from the Moon are handicapped. There are more traps and pitfalls along that way and since they have to pick Anomaly Cards more often, there's a much bigger chance of drawing the worst cards.” Buckler never thought his knowledge of a board game would score him points with one of the Royal Sisters.

“How is one to win this game, then? Its difficulty is quite staggering.” Her adorable confusion was on par with Cloudy Scope's, whenever he tried to ask her out.

“Basically, you would want to avoid starting from the Moon.” he said. He pointed at the rectangular shapes on the carpet and started drawing up a makeshift plan. “Try to gain some early momentum with comets, but don't even try gambling at the Nebula; it's too risky and for little gain. Avoid the asteroids and try to trap your opponents in hostile clusters. Do that and you're sure to win!”

“Brilliant!” Luna dropped her regal demeanor for a seconds to clap in delight, before composing herself again. “Your advice will surely give us an edge over everypony, noble guard. I will most certainly put in good word for you.”

Buckler's smile ran from ear to ear, as he bowed before her once more. “Thank you, Princess. I'm glad I could help.”

“You have done so much more than that.” she assured and turning around to head back and challenge Celestia to another game, feeling confident she would win for once. “Everypony, even my sister will tremble before the Princess of the Galaxy Gallop!”

“I'm sure she'll be surprised, when you beat her.” Buckler added, gleefully resuming his patrol route. “After all, she did design that game.”

In an instant, Luna's fluttering skips came to a screeching halt. “What?”

“Surely, you knew that your sister created the game, right?” he asked, although her reaction seemed to show that she had not been made aware of this fact.

“Is that so?” she said. In just a single sentence, her voice shifted from bubbly, to menacing and slow. A white glow began emanate from her eyes and even Buckler could see raw power crackling through her hooves and coat. “Well then, I think Celestia and I shall be playing a different game, first.”

This is not happening. Please, in the name of every ancestor of mine, please don't let this be happening!

Luna turned away from him and started walking, every single step she made burning holes into the carpet. She approached the room she had left before and simply tore the door right off the hinges, much to Buckler's chagrin. He ha no idea what the two may have discussed, but as the first bookcase flew into the hallway, he did know one thing.

He was going to need some backup.


Twilight looked around the mostly empty room, focusing on the two alicorns next to her, both eying each other with the kind of familiarity a hawk would have had towards a rabbit. If it weren't for magic, both of them would have still shown their battle scars from the day before. The event was already immortalized by tavern regulars as the 'Couch War', named after the weapons both of them had wielded, once everything else was swiftly or forcibly moved out of the room.

Luckily, Celestia's student just happened to be in town that day and was immediately called upon to try and mend things between the regal sisters. Taking cues from a handy little psychology book she'd been reading, she managed to calm both of them down and even got them to speak to each other, though only under her supervision.

Once the damage reports of that meeting rolled in as well, Twilight decided to take a different approach and address the root of the problem: the game itself.

“Alright, so let's get started!” she announced, levitating a scroll and a quill to herself. “To avoid any further incidents, I thought it'd be best if we redesigned the entire game, so no one will feel hurt about it.

“Now, I'd like you both to chime in with your thoughts, whenever there's a choice in the matter. No decision will be made, unless it's unanimous. Is that okay?”

She glanced at both of them and rubbed her hooves against each other. The situation wasn't completely unlike some she has had with her friends back in Ponyville, but trying to mend things between the Royal Sisters, was a different subject matter entirely. Celestia was the first to take note of that and sighed.

“Of course it is. The game I made has an awful amount of flaws in it. No wonder it needs to be remade from the grounds up.” Her wings were tucked up and even her hair lost some of its vibrant coloring. “I'm sure you would have made a much better game, Twilight.”

“What? No, that's not it!” Twilight's voice rose a little in pitch. “Your game is wonderful! I loved it as a filly and I love it even now! It really is one of the best?”

“Don't listen to her, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna ordered, sharpening her eyes into a glare. “That mare will do anything to bend your will. You must not think of her as your mentor, otherwise she will take advantage of it.”

“But I...” Twilight bit her lips and shook her head. Once she was done, her expression was just as stern as Luna's. “I'm sorry, Princess Celestia. Your game is good, but it's clearly biased and needs a thorough editing.”

“Alright.” The elder sister smiled at both of them, stifling a chuckle. This exchange was promising to be quite fun after all.

“First of all, both starting points need to have roughly equal chances.” her student began, the quill gliding across the blank parchment. “The Sun route should be safer, but slightly longer, while the Moon should be shorter, but with much bigger chances of traps and hindrances. Agree, disagree?”

While it did take a few agonizing seconds, both alicorns nodded, prompting Twilight to take notes on both that and their behavior. If everything went as smoothly as this, they would finish in no time at all.

“Next up, Sun's traps.” She drew up a makeshift line, with several steps. “There needs to be at least one that has the player skip a turn and one that has them draw an Anomaly Card.”

“I suggest placing a few more. This seems dreadfully easy.”

“That's the intention, Princess Luna,” the unicorn smiled at her and levitated the scroll closer, to show how she envisioned it, while she took a sip from the hot chocolate one of the stewards were kind enough to provide her with. “It's longer, but a lot safer. If anypony takes the Moon route, it may speed them up or severely slow them down. It'll be a game of chance!”

“Hmm...seems so indeed,” the princess concluded, to which Twilight nodded in approval. “It's good to know this game portrays both of us, to a certain extent. Apparently I am dangerous and exciting, while Tia is just plain boring.”

Twilight spit the hot chocolate right back into the cup, her head whipping in Celestia's direction. The alicorn merely raised a brow, but apparently didn't take the insult to heart, much to her student's delight. Her mentor was indeed the more balanced and mature of the two. Even with Luna's prickly little insults, she simply refused to lower herself to her level.

“Coincidentally, the line also signifies quite well the line of suitors that have approached us before,” she said. “I get the bright ones in long lines, while my dear sister gets nothing, but a brief selection of dimly lit individuals and traps.”

Or not.

“Is that so?” Luna stood up and extended her wings, very obviously upset. On this cue, Twilight jumped up and gently pushed on the princess' shoulder to make her sit down again.

“Let's not get into that right now, shall we?” she said. “We've still got a game to finish, after all.”

“Twilight, have you ever been to the Arcana Archives?”

The name immediately made the young unicorn flinch. She dropped to her haunches and gazed at Celestia, fully aware of what she was talking about. While she'd been to just about every library in Canterlot, the Arcana Archives contained some of the most elusive magic spells every created and cast by ponies. To even so much as glimpse at those books would have been on honor in itself.

“No.” Her voice was barely above that of a mouse, but her eyes were like saucers. Celestia smiled at her and levitated the paper full of game notes to herself.

“If you wish, I could always write you a permit.”

“Can you do that?” Twilight asked, barely even realizing the futility of her question. Of course she could have, she was the princess, after all!

“But of course.” Celestia winked at her, already scribbling something on the paper. “Fabulous secrets shall be revealed to you, once you hold aloft this piece of paper and say 'I have permission'!”

Luna scowled at her sister, fully aware of what she was doing. Deceiving her student like that was truly a new low for her and one she was more than ready to follow up on. She leaned close and murmured right into Twilight's waiting ear.

“Have you ever wanted to see a star up close?”

The unicorn's expression told her she was indeed interested, even before she could have spoken a single word. Luna smiled and tore the paper from Celestia's magic grasp and began to hastily scribble her own plans instead.

“I could take you on a journey through the sky, farther than any pegasus could ever dream of. All you need to do, is ask.”

“I...I...” Twilight mumbled, overwhelmed by these offers.

She was shifting her weight from left to right, gazing from one princess to the other, hoping she'd get a cue on which offer to take. Both of them were fighting over control in the meantime, distracting their supposedly neutral judge while they tried to bend the game's rules to their whim.

“Star Swirl's journals are full of spells–”

“–the secret of the Ursa and their constellation–”

“–your own fiefdom and castle–“

“–the truth behind Discord–”

“–whoever you desire–“

“–I love you, Twilight Sparkle!”

Both Twilight and Celestia were dumbstruck by that last offer and even Luna seemed to realize quite fast that it may have not been the best choice of words. To make it worse, it was awkward enough to make Twilight finally realize what they were doing and before they could have said a single word, bolted right out of the room, with the notes in tow.

Twilight slammed the door shut behind herself and started panting, both from the sudden exertion and the fact that she had almost fallen prey to their machinations. She walked over to the nearest window and looked out, taking it the sight of the bustling Canterlot below. Much as she tried, she couldn't find an alternative and this session had all but proved that she was hardly resilient to their attempts at manipulation.

A colorful object suddenly caught her eyes, as it floated right towards the castle. It was nothing, but a simple bright blue balloon, obviously let loose by a carefree foal, or their parents. Twilight's mouth slowly opened form the sight though, as in idea formulated in her mind. She needed someone who was impervious to manipulation, yet knew more than enough about games and fun to assist in making it fair and balanced.

It was time to bring in the expert.