• Published 11th Mar 2015
  • 10,014 Views, 203 Comments

Mate in Five Moves - Karrakaz

Friends who play together, stay together. That was the philosophy Rarity had in mind when she suggested she and Pinkie play a game of chess every week. Unfortunately for Rarity, however, she finds out that Pinkie is playing more than just one game.

  • ...

I'll Take White, Of Course

Tea, especially the simple chamomile kind that Rarity drank near constantly, was perfect for helping her relax and reign in some of her more dramatic tendencies. At least, it was supposed to. No matter how much of the stuff she drank, it couldn’t get rid of the tense feeling that settled in her stomach like a knot while playing chess. Not when she was determined to win.

Gingerly, she moved her rook to the other side of the field, double checking to make sure it was still protected by her arch-mage. Her opponent made the mistake of moving a pegasus back in order to protect her princess, which was exactly the opportunity Rarity had been looking for. With a flick of her horn, she made her own pegasus do its little L-jump amidst the opponent’s pieces and sprang the trap.

Rarity let out a deep breath and swore she could feel the tension slide from her shoulders. “Checkmate,” she said smiling at her latest victory.

Pinkie Pie, who hadn’t seemed as bothered by the entire match, or even completely invested in it, beamed back at her. “Yay!” She got up and hugged Rarity as she always did after one of their games, regardless of the outcome. “Gratsies, Rarity.”

The rush of victory faded quickly, and Rarity began cleaning up the evidence of their latest gaming session together. A pair of teacups floated back into the kitchen. The two kettles—for it had taken two kettles full to see Rarity through the three matches they had played—followed suit. And last but not least, she packed away the chess-set so that Pinkie could take it with her, but not before sneaking the last of the chocolate-covered biscuits she had put out for the occasion. She would probably feel guilty about it later, but right now still counted as relaxation time with Pinkie, so it was allowed.

She was a good ways into putting the pieces back into the box before she realised that she was doing so all on her own. Normally, Pinkie jumped at the chance to help her clean up. She considered it fun, apparently, as much as or more so than the game itself. But today, she simply sat at the table, staring off into space and wearing the vacant sort of smile that always worried Rarity a little. “Pinkie, darling? Are you alright?”

The lights were on, but nopony was home, it seemed, and it took a few moments before Pinkie blinked and turned to Rarity with a smile. It was a guilty one this time around. “Sorry, Rarity. I was just... thinking.”

“About what, darling? Is something amiss?”

“Nope! I just, um...” Pinkie glanced around furtively. “I just remembered I need to get back to work. Mr. and Mrs. Cake wanted to go to the park with the twins, and I promised I’d take care of the store.”

Rarity swept the last of the chess pieces into their box, closed the lid, and floated it over to her friend. “Well then, I guess you shouldn't keep them waiting.” She stretched and glanced around the room. “I should get back to work as well. Sapphire Shores is working on a new song and she wanted me to design the outfits for all of her background dancers!” She sighed in contentment and let her mind wander over some of the half-formed designs that she had pushed to the back of her mind in order to focus on the games of chess. “It’s going to take weeks to get it all ready, but everything for the sake of art, right?”

Pinkie’s ever-present smile faded just a smidge. “So... no best of four-hundred-and-seventy-one next week?” she asked dolefully.

It was so like her to be upset about not seeing her friends, even if it was only for a short while. “Not to worry, darling. I wouldn’t miss our weekly games for the world. We might not be able to take as long as we did today, but you have my word that we will play at least one game next week.”

Pinkie’s smile returned, and she hugged Rarity again, absorbing the chess set into her tail before bouncing to the door. “Oki-doki-loki. See you next week, Rarity!”

Rarity waved. “Ta-ta.”

After Pinkie left the boutique, Rarity’s cleaning efforts petered out, and she simply stared out the window. They had begun playing games weekly after the party mare had complained that Rarity spent time with everypony but her, and for a time, everything had been very pleasant. But lately Pinkie had seemed... distracted. It made her wonder if Pinkie still had problems with the arrangement they had come to.

Bringing Pinkie along to the spa with Fluttershy and herself should have worked wonderfully, as Pinkie wasn’t as opposed to primping as Rainbow Dash and Applejack were. Rarity shivered as she remembered the disaster that had followed. Worse than either of the two tomboys nagging was Pinkie's tendency to liven things up if she thought things were becoming too restful, or as she put it: boring.

What was supposed to have been two hours of relaxation in the mud baths had turned into some hideous amalgamation of a bubble bath and splash-fight. After that, Pinkie had turned seaweed wraps into party snacks, and the massage tables into makeshift defenses for a somewhat hazardous rendition of 'pin the tail on the pony.' She was glad that Fluttershy had come up with the idea of a weekly game instead; the spa sisters—or her own nerves for that matter—likely wouldn't have survived another one of Pinkie’s visits.

Chess hadn’t exactly been the first choice. Pinkie brought a whole slew of games to the table, most of which Rarity couldn’t stand to play even once. When they had finally gotten to chess, however, she had almost immediately agreed. It wasn’t that she was good at the game, or even knew anything about it, other than that fact that it was a well-liked game by the higher echelons in Canterlot’s upper crust. That had been enough.

Pinkie didn’t much care which game they played as long as they were both having fun; however, she was much better at it than Rarity would have thought possible. For months on end, Pinkie had won every game bar none, much to Rarity’s chargin. It had gotten to the point where she had thrown the entire board across the room in a fit, and had to console a dismayed Pinkie afterwards; lying through her teeth about having had fun and promising that she would love it if her friend wanted to play a game again the next week.

Rarity let out a sigh and continued with her cleaning.

She had gotten better eventually, thanks in no small part to the little tips and tricks that Twilight had given her—along with a book on the basics of chess. But lately, her victories often came too easily. She got the sense that Pinkie often didn’t pay attention, or if she did, she played in such a way that all but ensured that Rarity would win.

What if the poor dear is upset about losing? She couldn’t get the thought to stay in her head without wanting to laugh. The overwhelming evidence to the contrary made it seem silly to even consider. She considered a much more worrying scenario: Pinkie was much more sensitive to the opinions of others than most ponies knew… and Rarity had yelled at her; but that too felt out of place. You’re starting to sound like Twilight. She’s been perfectly happy since. You’re just having a hard time figuring out why you’re winning.

The high pitch ring of her store bell pulled her out of her thoughts. “Hello? Rarity? Anypony home?”

Rarity looked around in bewilderment. Drat, she’s early. She hadn’t gotten nearly as far with cleaning up as she would have liked, and when she looked into the cupboard, she found that she’d run out of tea, as well. “Just a minute, Twilight!” she called out, snatching the kettle from the kitchen counter and filling it up with water. After that, each and every one of her cupboards was opened, looked through, and closed again in quick succession. There had to be something she could use as a replacement.

She found the answer in a glass jar tucked away in the back of the last cupboard she checked. It was filled with pearlescent globes—a gift from Princess Celestia herself— which she had put away as soon as she got home. Supposedly they made for some of the greatest tea ever, but she had liked the thought of keeping a gift from the Princess just so much more than some good tea. Still, this was an emergency.

She grabbed a couple of the globes and dropped them into the kettle. The plate with snacks was hastily filled, after which Rarity hurried back into the living room. Twilight had already made herself comfortable and smiled when Rarity walked back in. “Tea’s coming,” Rarity said by way of greeting. She put down the plate and smiled back. “I have to say, I wasn’t expecting you until after dinner.”

Twilight’s smile turned uncertain. “Sorry, my research paper wasn’t as long as I expected it would be, so I thought I’d drop by earlier. Should I come back later?” She made a move to get up but Rarity waved her back down.

“It’s no trouble at all, darling,” she said, taking a seat across from the alicorn.

“So... what did you want to talk to me about? Problems with the book?” Twilight asked, relaxing and fluffing her wings before sitting back down.

“Not this time,” Rarity replied immediately. It was no secret that she fell behind on her reading at times, but she could still feel the rush of embarrassment in her cheeks. “Though the story does drag on a fair bit.” Twilight’s question wasn’t so much idle conversation as it was an attempt at gauging how good Rarity had been at keeping her promise from the week before.

Spending some time with each of her friends was important to Rarity, and she had thought to have found an easy solution where it concerned Twilight and Rainbow Dash. The two had, along with Cheerilee, founded a small book club, which convened every week to talk about the latest book they’d read. For Rarity, it had been somewhat of a mistake. Between her own design work and commissions, she often couldn’t find the time to read as much as the two bibliophiles and the lazy speedster did. Still, they did let her pick a romance novel every once in a while, so it wasn't all bad.

“Hmmm.” Twilight nodded thoughtfully. “I have to agree with you on that one. Hemingneigh is a great writer, but he sometimes lets the story get away from him.”

Rarity nodded in agreement. “Yes...”


“The book wasn’t exactly why I wanted to talk to you.”

Twilight leaned forward, curious, but unsurprised. “What did you want to talk about then? Is there a problem with your summer designs? Do you need somepony to model for you?” She paused for a moment and smirked. “More chess tips?”

Rarity's flush remained, though the reason for it had changed. “Something like that,” she said at length, twisting her ears back when the kettle began to scream in the kitchen. “Tea?”

“Yes, please.”

While levitation on an object in another room could be problematic, plucking the kettle from the stove with her magic was something Rarity was accustomed to doing. As such, it took but a moment before it came floating into the room, and with it came a wonderful aroma of vanilla and lavender.

“That smells really good.” Twilight took a deep whiff and smiled. “Reminds me of teatime with Princess Celestia.”

“Really?” Rarity’s ears perked up. “I had no idea you did anything other than study,” she said with a giggle.

Twilight made a face. “Har har,” she said mockingly before laughing as well.

“What I wanted to talk to about is...” Rarity paused, taking a sip of her own tea. It tasted as good as it smelled and better than she had expected; with a delicate and subtle blend of vanilla and notes of cinnamon, it was unlike any tea she’d ever had. “Oh my, this tea is delicious.” They each sipped their tea in silence for a while, Rarity enjoying the new taste, and Twilight reminiscing about old times. Eventually, however, Rarity shook off her reverie and cleared her throat. “Twilight, forgive me if this seems like an odd question, but have you ever played a game of chess with Pinkie Pie?”

Twilight looked up from her teacup. “We play every once in a while. Why do you ask?”

Rarity meticulously put down her cup, taking a deep breath before asking: “Is she any good?”

“She is,” Twilight said. “Very good, in fact. Why do you ask?"

Rarity shrugged. “I was curious.” She leaned forward a little, setting her own cup aside and sneakily grabbing another confectionary from the plate. “And if you had to compare me to her... How much of a chance do you think I would have to win?”

Twilight's answer was out of her mouth in an instant. “Impossibly small,” said her lips before she hid them behind a set of hooves.

Rarity frowned at her friend and crossed her forelegs. “You do me a disservice, I think. I'll have you know that I've gotten much better in the last couple of weeks.”

Twilight sighed and shook her head. “Sorry, Rarity. I didn't mean to imply that you're terrible at the game. Just…” She sighed again and looked around the room as if the words she was looking for had hidden themselves among the shelves of Rarity's boutique. “Well... you are still terrible at the game. You've still only just begun playing. Statistically speaking, there is no way for you to be good enough to beat Pinkie.”

Rarity's frown graduated to a full-on glare, the full force of which she turned on Twilight. “And I suppose you would know all about that, wouldn't you?” she snapped, getting up and stalking over to an end table.

“Rarity, I—”

“Shush. You said she was good, and you know the game. I’ve beaten Pinkie fairly, and if you don’t believe me then I will simply have to show you how much better I’ve become.”

The first game didn’t go well for Rarity, losing in only eight moves. Worse still, while she usually took less than a minute for each move—a big improvement from the five it had taken when she started— Twilight’s responses were nigh instantaneous. It was like Twilight knew which moves she was going to make before she made them. Infuriating.

“I’m just a little... tense,” she said after Twilight had declared check-mate. “Which I’m sure you can understand, being the cause of it.”

She reset the board and moved the pawn protecting her princess forward, only for Twilight to move one of her pegasi and say: “Mate in seven moves.”

Rarity gave her friend a perplexed look and then scrutinised the board, trying to see how in Equestria such a thing could be accomplished. She saw no way. Trying to get into my head, hmm? I’m certain that you won’t beat me that easily, darling.

A few minutes, and seven moves later, she was forced to concede, much to her chagrin. Two games turned into five, five games turned into ten. And even though she was tenacious, after fifteen games—all of which she lost— Rarity was forced to admit that she wasn’t quite as good as she had believed herself to be.

After twenty-five games, she had to conclude that she had a lot to learn.

At the fiftieth loss, she not only had to admit she had next to no idea of how to play chess, but she also was going to need a new chess board, and a new vase.

“That was very childish of me, and I am sorry you had to see it.” Rarity said, huffing and puffing while she tried to calm herself.

Twilight frowned in sympathy. “Do you want me to get a broom—”

“No... no... I made this mess. I should be the one to clean it up.” Rarity began picking through the various shards of chess board and vase alike, relieved to find that the solid crystal chess pieces had survived her tantrum, unlike the glass chess board, which would have to be replaced.

“Sorry, maybe I was a little too—”

“No, you did what you had to do. I wouldn’t want you to let me win just to make me feel better.”

“For what it’s worth, you have gotten a lot better at the game since last time I saw you play.” A few of the chess pieces that Rarity had carefully set aside glowed with Twilight’s distinctive purple aura and floated back over to the table. “You even got the pegasus’ movement right this time.”

Though she knew Twilight was trying to cheer her up, the words were accomplishing the opposite. “Wonderful,” she groused while picking up the remaining debris and sending it off to the small pile of refuse she would get rid of later. “Now I know how my little sister feels each time she fails to get her cutie mark.” With a long suffering sigh she looked over at the pile. “Almost made as much of a mess of it as well.”

“I told you from the start that it’s not an easy game to master.”

“I know, I know.”

“Though I guess that Pinkie’s playstyle is a little more erratic than most ponies you might find playing this game...” Twilight continued thoughtfully. “Don’t get me wrong, I think Pinkie might have been playing the game for longer than most ponies I know, but she never... how do I put this?”

“Never seems to think ahead?” Rarity got a few paper towels which she used to bundle the refuse up in, it was so much easier than trying to lift the entire pile individually.

“No, actually. She does think ahead, it’s just... not in the way most ponies do.” Even from the kitchen, Rarity could picture the thoughtful expression that accompanied a loud ‘slurp’ from a teacup. “She’s very good at thinking in unusual ways, and sometimes sees opportunities a few moves ahead, which is really quite a feat.”

“More tea, darling?” she called out. Might as well make her trip to the kitchen be useful for more than just cleaning up the pieces of her dignity.

“Yes, please.”

“That is exactly what I wanted to ask you,” she said while walking back into the living room. “I’ve never gotten the sense that Pinkie lost to me intentionally, but she seems... distracted when we play. To the point where I can’t recall the last time I lost to her.”

Twilight shrugged after she’d sat down again. “I wouldn’t know,” she said. “She never really does that whenever we play chess.” She cocked her head and hummed softly. “Though I guess it sometimes happens when she’s trying to read a book? I always thought that it meant she was bored...”

“I... see.”

“I could be wrong, though,” Twilight said quickly when she noticed Rarity’s expression. “It’s hard to even imagine Pinkie being bored.”

“She would have to be humoring a particularly unskilled opponent for that, wouldn’t she?” Rarity muttered.

Twilight remained quiet for a time. She drank her tea, apparently no longer feeling any of the satisfaction that had accompanied the action before. “For what it’s worth, you had some very inventive moves,” she said at length. “I mean, around game thirty I was actually impressed by that pawn to Princess’ four. You just need more practice and—”

“Don’t. Just... don’t,” Rarity replied with a sour look. “I don’t need coddling. I want to know what’s changed.”

Twilight coughed uncomfortably. “Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with chess?”

“So just how good is she?” Rarity demanded. “Could Pinkie have bested you?”

Twilight sighed and shrugged. “She wins about forty percent of the games we play, which is a lot more than I’d expected her to.”

Twilight’s admission was like a blow to the gut for Rarity. Not only was Pinkie much better than she let on, she also played chess with ponies besides Rarity. That in turn lead her to wonder why it bothered her; she had her own things with her other friends, after all, and there was nothing stopping Pinkie from doing something similar. If she knew Pinkie at all, the dear probably made a lot more time for her friends than Rarity herself did, so it was little wonder that she would play chess with other ponies.

“When do you play chess?”

Twilight shrugged and took another sip from her tea. “We play at least once a week on friday, though she’ll sometimes barge in, demanding to play a game. Why?”

She’s never done that with me. The realisation stung. She had been under the impression that her friendship with Pinkie was flourishing, and yet it seemed as though it was little more than a placating gesture on Pinkie’s part; one she was apparently tiring of. Or she’s simply being respectful of your time. Stars know you’re always telling her how busy you are. “Do you think Pinkie would play below her skill level on purpose?”

“I doubt it, but you know what she’s like: always trying to get other ponies to smile.”

Rarity nodded, her mind abuzz with questions she didn't have answers to. Is Pinkie just humoring me? Should I ask her about it? She found herself shaking her head. She answered Twilight's concerned expression with a smile. “Thank you for the candor, darling.”

“You're welcome?” Twilight replied while Rarity all but shoved her to the door. “Was that all you wanted to talk about?”

“Heavens no, darling. I would love to talk more. However…” She made a gesture to the window where the sun had since set. “It is getting to be rather late, and I'm already behind with my latest designs.”

Twilight stood outside the door for a moment before shrugging. “You'll tell us if you need any help, right?”

“Of course, darling. But for now, you should get back. Spike must be wondering where you've been, and I can handle myself for a few days.”

“Okay then.” Twilight finally smiled and waved before turning down the path that lead to the library. “Goodnight, Rarity.”

“Goodnight, darling.”

Rarity watched her alicorn friend for a moment longer before closing the door. If there is a problem with Pinkie, there's no sense in worrying about it now. “Which means I should work on those dresses for a while and then have a nice, long, beauty sleep.” She began humming a tune while making her way to the design room. Pinkie's problems would be dealt with later; right now she had her own obligations to deal with.