• Published 30th Apr 2016
  • 9,323 Views, 977 Comments

My Little Pony: Friendship is Numerous - Monty Eggman



Based on the Equestria Girls movies and Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL, this series tells the story of Sunset Shimmer in her quest to locate a series of dangerous cards that corrupt those who find them. It's time to Duel!

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RANK 39: The Tournament Begins:

Author's Note:

The Tournament story arc is now officially on its way. The next episode will reveal who all managed to make it, including the four OC's I've chosen to make an appearance. For now, enjoy the episode!

RANK 39: The Tournament Begins:
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THE STORY SO FAR...:
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In Canterlot High School, every student is wild over the world's most popular trading card game: Duel Monsters! Every day, players of the card game, known as "Duelists", go head-to-head to see who among them is the best around. Among the Duelists in attendance at CHS, one of the best is a young teenager named Sunset Shimmer, a girl from another world...

During their trip to the Pranceton Museum, Sunset and the others have learned some rather shocking information regarding the ancient Order of Astral: Specifically that THEY were the order's High Priestesses in a past life! Their history teacher, Mrs. K - otherwise known as Kisara, revealed to the girls that they, like herself, are reincarnated souls. However, unlike Kisara, Sunset and her friends have no recollection of their former lives from over 3,000 years ago. However, Kisara then revealed to them seven blank Number cards that she claimed were the keys to unlocking their past memories and their true power.

On that same day, Sunset received a rather interesting call from Principal Celestia. The principal told her that the upcoming Duel Monsters World Championship Qualifiers was being held in Canterlot City this year, and all but one of the invitations have been sent out. To determine who would get that last invitation, Industrial Illusions - the producers of the Duel Monsters card game, organized a special tournament open to all those living in or visiting Canterlot. Not only that, Celestia also arranged for Sunset to take a special test that would allow her to become an Official Duel Monsters Tournament Judge. With a bit of help from Twilight and Spike, Sunset was able to study for and pass the test.

Now Sunset is the official Judge for the upcoming tournament, and is in charge of enforcing the rules. Will the tournament go off without a hitch? Or will outside forces threaten to make trouble for the competing Duelists...?

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It was late afternoon in Sunset's apartment, and the air was alive with excitement: Pinkie Pie had thrown a party in celebration of Sunset Shimmer passing a test that made her officially recognized as a Duel Monsters Tournament Judge. Naturally, everyone was there to celebrate her achievement: With her were Twilight Sparkle and Spike, as well as her friends Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Fluttershy, and of course Pinkie. Also at the party were Principal Celestia and Vice Principal Luna, as well as Manny Roar, the owner of the building that Sunset lived in, and even Flash Sentry, Sunset's ex-boyfriend (but still a regular friend).

"Wow... this is just like when we had that party for when I won the Inter-School Duel..." Fluttershy mentioned as she poured out some fruit punch for herself. "I hope we won't be too loud..."

"You needn't worry, miss." Manny Roar told her. "As I've said before, the walls are soundproof. No expense was spared to ensure my tenants could live here peacefully. So don't be afraid to be a little loud every now and then!"

"Um... that's okay, Mr. Roar..." the shy girl said to him. "I'm not the... um, 'loud' type."

Elsewhere, Sunset Shimmer was talking to both Celestia and Luna in regards to the Judge Certification Test that she had passed just today. "I must admit, Ms. Shimmer:" Luna began to say. "When my sister told me that you had become an official Judge, I was quite surprised. But I suppose that it was no surprise to you, considering how high your score was. In any case, congratulations on such a marvelous achievement!"

"Thank you, Vice Principal Luna." said the red-and-yellow teen. "To be honest, I'm still finding it all hard to believe: Me, an Official Duel Monsters Tournament Judge!"

"What's not to believe?" asked Rainbow Dash, walking over towards them all. "You're every bit as much of a brainiac as Twilight, after all!"

"She's correct." Celestia then told her. "Today you proved to yourself and everyone else that you deserve such a great honor. Quite a change from how things used to be, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it sure is..." Sunset replied. "Maybe that's why I'm finding it hard to believe it all: Because now I'm getting honor and praise from everybody without having to force it out of them. I guess that's something I may never get used to..."

"But you definitely deserve it all, Sunset." Twilight then told her. "You've worked hard to change who you are, and it's paying off. I'm really proud of you, and so is everypon-er, everybody here!"

Smiling, the jacket-wearing girl told her Princess friend, "Thanks, Twilight. I've said it before, but I'm glad that we got to become friends. I don't know how I'd have gotten this far without you."

Twilight shook her head and told her, "While I may have helped you a little every now and then, in the end, you made all of this come true on your own. It's like I said: You worked hard to better yourself and become the good person you were always meant to be. You have to give yourself more credit, Sunset. You're a very strong person, and you can do anything you set your mind to."

Sunset thought about what Twilight said to her just now; for some reason, she could have sworn she had heard something like that once before, but she didn't know where. She then nodded to her friend and told her, "I guess you're right, Twilight. Still, thanks for everything you've done for me."

"Anytime." the young Princess replied.

Clearing her throat, Celestia then said to Sunset, "Now don't forget: Tomorrow morning, I want you to come to my office early to help with the opening announcements."

"The announcements?" asked Applejack. "Does this have anything t' do with her becomin' a Judge?"

"Sort of." the principal answered. "I'm going to have her announce to the school that she will be the active Judge for the upcoming Qualifier Tournament. In addition, I will have her inform all of the students when sign-ups for the tournament will take place."

"And when will that be?" asked Rarity. "And moreso, where will it take place?"

"You'll have to wait until tomorrow to find that out, like everyone else." Celestia replied. Looking at her cellphone's clock, she then said, "Oh my! I nearly lost track of the time! Forgive me, but Luna and I have some more work to do regarding the tournament. We will see you tomorrow morning."

"Good night, Celestia! Good night Luna!" said the ever-cheerful Pinkie Pie. "See you bright and earlyyyyy!"

Celestia chuckled and waved good-bye. As they headed towards the door, she then said to her sister, "Just thinking about the tournament takes me back to our glory days, doesn't it Luna?"

"Indeed it does, Sister." the vice-principal replied. "Ah, to Duel on such a grand stage once again... It would most certainly be divine." The two of them continued to chat with each other as the left the apartment and shut the door behind them.

Sunset, overhearing the principals' conversation, hummed a little to herself in thought. As she did, Manny Roar got up out of the chair he was sitting on and said, "Well, I suppose I'd better be on my way, too. Got a lot of work to do. You all take care now, okay?" After that, the kindly landlord left the room as well.

"So," Twilight then asked the others in the room, "have any of you thought about joining the tournament?"

"Eh, I thought about it," Pinkie began to say, "but I don't think I will."

"Whaddya mean, Pinks?" asked a somewhat surprised Rainbow Dash. "Your Madolche Deck is amazing! You could go all the way and probably win the whole thing!"

"Maybe, but to be honest, I'm really not that into big tournaments like this one." the pink girl admitted. "I just like playing for the fun of it, that's all!"

"Eh, fair enough, I guess." the cyan teen replied, understanding Pinkie's opinion. "As for me, I need some more time to practice with my new F.A. Deck, so I guess I'm out too."

"Ah'll hafta sit this one out as well, girls." Applejack told them. "I wanna join, but Ah got too much work t' do on the farm, that Ah won't have enough time t' practice."

"I'm afraid my case is quite similar to Applejack's." Rarity told her friends. "I just got a dress order from one of our regular clients so I won't be able to find the time to practice with my Deck either." She then turned to Twilight and asked her, "What about you, Twilight dear? Are you entering the tournament?"

"Um, I'm afraid not." the young Princess answered. "As good as I've gotten lately, I don't think I'm quite ready for a major tournament yet. Besides, Sunset asked me to help her out during the competition, so I couldn't enter even if I wanted to."

"Wait, you're gonna be Sunset's assistant?" asked Rainbow Dash.

"Mostly with paperwork and all that." Sunset answered her friend. "That way, I can focus my attention on my Judge duties and make sure that everybody's playing by the rules." She then glanced over to her ex-boyfriend and asked him, "What about you, Flash?"

"Me?" he replied. "Actually, I think I will give the tournament a try. I've been working on my Deck for a while, and so far it's been doing very well. I'd like to see how far I can go with it."

"That's good to hear." said the red-and-yellow teen. "What kind of Deck is it?"

"It's a Heroic Deck." the boy answered her. "I've tried a few different archetypes, but that's the one that seems the most natural to me so far." Twilight felt the same way; even though she had never studied the Deck before, she also figured that it would fit someone like him the most, based on what she knew of his Equestrian counterpart.

"What about you, Fluttershy?" Pinkie then asked, turning over to the person in question. "Are you gonna enter the tournament, too?"

"Ummm... well..." But before the shy girl could answer, her cellphone began to ring. "Oh my...!" she exclaimed softly, pulling out her device and looking at who it was that was calling her. "Um, please excuse me for a moment. My mother's calling me." She then walked into the bathroom so that she could have a private conversation with the person on the other end. What no one knew was that despite what Fluttershy had told them, the name listed on the phone wasn't her mother's name...

"Welp... guess we'll hafta wait 'til later t' find that out." noted Applejack.

"Guess so." Rainbow Dash chimed in. For now, the others decided not to worry about it for now, despite how curious they were at the moment.

About an hour or so later, the party was beginning to wind down and the guests were ready to head home. One by one, each of them left the apartment, saying goodbye as they did. After a few minutes, Only Sunset, Twilight, Spike, and Pinkie remained in the room. "Say, Sunset?" the young Princess began to ask her friend.

"What is it?"

"Well, Pinkie invited me and Spike over to her house for the night." Twilight told her. "I just want to make sure that's okay with you, that's all."

"You don't have to ask me permission for that sort of stuff, Twilight." Sunset informed her. "It's no problem to me if you want spend the night over at Pinkie's."

"I know. I was only asking because..." the purple-skinned teen said. "if I do go, then... then you'll be all by yourself the whole night."

"I'll be fine, Twilight. Don't worry about me." she told her friend. "I've had to live alone for a while before you came back here, so I'm a bit used to it already. To be honest, I could use a little time alone anyway. There's a lot of... well, let's just say there's a lot of stuff on my mind that I have to sort out, and it'll be easier if I'm by myself when I do it. Anyway, you don't have to be concerned about me. Just go and enjoy yourself."

"Okay then. Then... I guess I'll see you at school tomorrow, Sunset." Twilight responded.

"See ya later, Twilight." Sunset told her. "Have a good time with Pinkie Pie."

"Oh, she will. I can guarantee that!" the silly pink girl assured her. She then asked Twilight, "Before we go, though: You need to use the bathroom at all?"

"Um... no, I'm fine." the purple girl answered. "Why do you ask?"

"Well, you know, in another few hours, the sun will rise..." Pinkie answered her.

Raising an eyebrow, Twilight then asked, "...Um, what does that have to do with me using the bathroom?"

"Well... um... You know, now that you mention it, I have absolutely no idea." Pinkie admitted. She then shrugged her shoulders and left for the door. Sunset and Twilight shared an awkward giggle regarding Pinkie's comment before the young Princess made her way out as well.

For the next several minutes, Sunset took it upon herself to clean up the slight mess following their party, tossing out the garbage, taking down the decorations, and putting away the leftover snacks and drinks in the kitchen. By the time she was done, the otherworldly girl left out a tired sigh and wiped a few beads of sweat from her forehead. "Phew... finally, that's all taken care of." she said to herself, a bit exhausted. "I could use a little break..." She then removed her jacket and laid it out on her couch before walking into her bathroom.

About a minute later, the red-and-yellow-girl was relaxing in her hot tub after a long day. She was now clad in a black, two-piece bathing suit, with the top part showing part of a design that resembled her pony form's cutie mark (during her trip to Bloodstone, she had bought it along with her new outfit). Although she was in a relaxed state, she was still thinking about everything that had happened recently. With no one else around, she felt safe talking about it to herself out-loud. "It's still hard to believe everything that just happened today and yesterday..." she said to herself. "I'm actually going to be the Judge for the tournament this weekend. I'm feeling nervous just thinking about it. But that's not the only thing..."

Sunset then glanced over to the hamper beside the tub; sitting there were her nighttime clothes, which she planned to put on after she was done with her soak. On top of her night outfit was, of course, her key necklace - also known as the Emperor's Key. Sunset stared at the key for some time before she eventually got up out of the tub a little in order to reach over and take it. The red-and-yellow girl sat back down in the water, looking at the key-shaped charm and saying to herself, "Kisara told us that this was worn by a High Priestess in the Order of Astral. And she also said that it was 'interesting' that I had gotten it..." Thinking about it some more, she then recalled the dream she had last night. "That's right... the person in my dream... The one who looked like me..." she said to herself. "She was wearing a necklace just like mine."

Sunset then thought some more about her dream as well as what Kisara had told her and the others. "Kisara said that she was a reincarnated soul. And when a soul is reborn in a new body, they usually can't recall the memories of their previous life. But those memories still exist within their mind... And when Kisara picked up a Number, she was able to remember who she was in the past." Humming a bit more to herself, the inter-dimensional girl then asked herself, "If that's true... then that dream that I had... was it really a dream... or... was it a memory...?"

The young girl still wasn't completely sure of what was going on, but the one thing she could figure was that the dream she had served some sort of purpose. What that purpose was wasn't clear to her yet, but Sunset resolved to figure it out one way or another. As she kept thinking about these things, her key necklace gave off a faint glow (too faint for Sunset to notice). Not only that, her Duel Monsters Deck - which she had left in her bedroom, gave off a faint glow as well...

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The next morning, Sunset drove her Duel Runner to Canterlot High School. She was about an hour or so early because she had promised Principal Celestia that she would help her with the morning announcements; specifically the part concerning the upcoming tournament. After she arrived, she phoned Celestia to let her know that she had arrived at the school (as it was still too early for the doors to be open). The principal then came to the front doors not long after and unlocked them to allow Sunset inside.

After getting to Celestia's office, the principal then discussed things with Sunset on how the morning announcements were to be delivered, and to use her best speaking voice. The two of them rehearsed the announcements a few times before the school officially opened. About an hour or so later, when a substantial number of students were in the building, Sunset was ready to give it her all.

(Alright then... here goes nothing.) the red-and-yellow girl thought to herself. Putting on a smile, she then spoke into Celestia's microphone and said, "Good morning, students of Canterlot High School! This is Sunset Shimmer, and I will be delivering the morning announcements for today!"

"That's interesting... Usually the principal or the vice principal gives the announcements in the morning." said one of the students; it was Shining Spoon, who was busy going over a small manual that was issued out in his new Woodshop Class this semester.

"Yeah, I wonder why Sunset's the one doing it this time?" asked Indigo Bolt, sitting next to him. She was also reading the same manual herself, as the two of them were in the same class.

Clearing her throat a little, Sunset began the announcements, saying, "First things first, throughout the semester, Principal Celestia will begin a fundraiser for an upcoming summer trip to Camp Everfree. You are not inclined to donate, but anything you can offer will be appreciated. Whether it's money, food, supplies, or anything else."

"Camp Everfree?" asked Applejack, who was sitting with the rest of her and Sunset's friends in the cafeteria, where most students congregated before 1st Period. "Ah've heard of that place; ain't that the summer camp run by that Gloriosa chick?"

"Yes, it is..." Fluttershy confirmed. "She runs the place with her brother. I've heard rumors that they're having some issues though... I hope everything's alright; I always loved going there during the summer when I was still in elementary school..."

"Moving onto the next subject," Sunset continued with her announcements. At that moment, Vice Principal Luna handed her a small index card. "Whoops, hang on... I was just handed something, give me a sec..." After reading what was written on it, she then nodded and said, "Okay... To the owner of a 2013 Volkswagon Beetle... License number PPK-0519, your lights are on. That's a 2013 Volkswagon, license PPK-0519, your lights are on."

Letting out a groan, Pinkie Pie stood up out of her seat and said, "Darnit, that's me... I'll be right back." She then walked off to switch her car lights off right away.

"I guess that might be partially my fault;" Twilight admitted to the others as Sunset continued on with the announcements. "Pinkie and I were talking about some things, so I might have unintentionally distracted her."

"It happens to the best of us, Twilight dear." Rarity told her. "I'm sure Pinkie would forgive you for it."

"What was it that you guys were talking about?" asked Rainbow Dash.

"Well... it's about those things that Kis-... I mean, Mrs. K told us at the museum." the purple teen answered, stopping herself from saying the history teacher's real name.

"What about 'em?" asked Applejack.

"Well, last night," Twilight began to tell her friends, "I was talking with Pinkie Pie, and then Utopia..."

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Last night:
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"I still can't believe it all..." said the Princess of Friendship, as she sat on top of a sleeping bag that Pinkie provided to her so that she could sleep in the pink girl's room. "To think that we were all alive and living different lives over 3,000 years ago! I mean, what are the odds?!"

"Well, we're main characters; both in this and in the official release... so I'd say the odds're pretty good." Pinkie replied in her usual odd manner.

Taking her Deck out and pulling her Utopia card out of it, she then asked it, "Utopia, what do you make of all this? Did we really have past lives all those years ago?"

(As you recall, Twilight,) Utopia told her in her mind, (I have no memories of events such as those your teacher mentioned. That being said, there is something... familiar about it all. I cannot explain it, but something about you... When I first met you in your home universe, I could sense something natural concerning our connection to each other, as if we had co-operated once already...)

"You really think so?" asked Twilight. "If that's so, then there might be some truth to what Kisara told us..."

(I am not certain whether or not this Kisara is who she claims to be...) Utopia informed his owner. (But I do not believe that she was lying about everything she told to us so far. At least for now, there should be no consequences in trusting her words.) Twilight nodded, understanding him. She then proceeded to tell Pinkie everything Utopia had said, since she couldn't hear him like Twilight could.

Smiling a little, Pinkie then asked, "I wonder what we were like back then... Were we just like we are now, or different? Or both the same and different? Whatever we were, I hope we were all friends with each other like we are right now!"

Twilight giggled a little and said, "I'm sure we were, Pinkie."

"And you guys must've been really important people if somebody felt that you needed to come back, right?" asked Spike, who was curled up next to the young Princess.

"Yeah, I bet we were!" said Pinkie. "You heard was Mrs. K said: She said that we were all High Priestesses or something! If that's not important enough, I don't know what is!"

"It sure sounds pretty important to me." Twilight told her. She then pulled out another card from her Deck: The blank card that Mrs. K had given to her and the others at the museum. "And I have a feeling that these cards might have the power to help us remember who we used to be... maybe."

"Who knows?" asked Pinkie as she got her blank card out as well. "Either way, Mrs. K's counting on us to use these cards to... um, do SOMETHING good and nice! Anyway, we've got a job to do, whether we wanted it or not!"

"That's true." said Twilight. "We have to do whatever we need to do to make sure that this world stays safe. Right now, that means making sure that none of the other Number cards fall into the wrong hands! I promised all of you that I'd do my part, and I'm still going to make good on that promise!"

"I feel the same way, Twilight!" Spike said, getting up. "I want to help as much as I can, even if I can't play cards like you and the others. No more couch potato-ing for me! I'm your assistant, and I'm gonna start actin' like it!"

"Thanks, Spike." the young Princess told him, giving him a little hug. "I feel even better knowing you're all on my side."

"There's no better side than the right side!" Pinkie told her with high enthusiasm.

Twilight felt a little better about the whole ordeal knowing that her friends were there to support her. Looking at her Utopia card and her blank card again, she then said to Pinkie Pie, "There's... one other thing I want to talk to you about... Last night, I had this strange dream..."

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After that, Twilight then told the rest of her friends about her bizarre dream, in which she saw figures that looked just like herself and Sunset, only the setting was lot more... ancient-looking. Needless to say, the others were a bit amazed by what she told them. "So... these people that look like the two of you," Rarity began to ask, "Who were they?"

"It's kinda hard to remember..." Twilight started, trying to recall the people from her dream, "but I think I heard them say that their names were... um, Sun'Et... And the other girl was named... um, oh! Spakah!"

"Sun'Et... and Spakah...?" asked Applejack, trying to process the unusual names.

"So not only do these guys look like you," Rainbow Dash started to say, "but their names even sound similar to yours... Weird."

"If that's the case..." Rarity chimed in, "then does that mean what Mrs. K told us is actually true...? I mean, this can't all possibly be a coincidence, could it? She tells us that we had past lives, and then you have a dream about people that looked and sounded almost exactly like you and Sunset!"

"It does seem like my dream is fitting in perfectly with what Mrs. K told us, but there's still so many things I don't know yet..." Twilight responded. "Like for instance: Where is this Astral World place? Who or what is in there? And if we were priestesses back then, what was our purpose regarding that world? I hate to admit it, but this might be one puzzle that even I may not be able to put together..."

"I'm sure we'll figure it all out before too long, Twilight..." said Fluttershy. "There's no need to rush ahead and try to force the answers out. Besides, whether we were priestesses or not, that doesn't change who we are now, and it definitely won't change the fact that we'll always be friends with each other..."

"Perhaps you're right." said the young Princess. "It's like Princess Celestia told me once: If I'm meant to know something, it'll come to me sooner or later." Sighing a little, she then told the others, "Anyway, about the dream: I haven't told Sunset about it yet. I would have, but I don't want to burden her with it until after this tournament is overwith. So... I hate to ask this of you, but... could you not tell her about it for now?"

"You want us to keep a secret?" asked Rarity, a little surprised by her otherworldly friend's request.

"I'll tell her about it after the tournament's done." Twilight promised them. "So, you won't have to keep it a secret very long. So please... promise me that you won't say anything about it until I'm ready?"

"Of course we promise, Twi." Applejack replied with a smile. "But only if YOU promise t' tell 'er like y'all said ya would."

"I will, Applejack." the purple girl said with a nod. And with that, the agreement was made.

At that point, Pinkie Pie got back from switching the lights off on her car. "Sorry about that, girls." she told them all. "Sooooo, what'd I miss?"

"Twi was just tellin' us about that weird dream of hers." Rainbow Dash said.

"Ohhhhhhhh yeah! I remember that!" the pink girl replied. "She told me about it last night when she was over at my house! Made me Pinkie-Promise not to tell Sunnie though."

"Yeah, she had us promise that, too." Applejack told her.

"Speaking of Sunset..." Fluttershy began, "I think she's almost done with the morning announcements." The others quieted down so that they could hear their friend reading off the last bit of news.

"And last - but certainly not least," Sunset said with pride in her voice, "This weekend, right here in the CHS football field, there will be a big Duel Monsters Tournament that will take place."

"A Duel Monsters Tournament??" asked Sweetie Belle, who was sitting with her friends Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Babs Seed.

"This tournament is being held to determine who will be the last entrant to the upcoming World Championship Qualifiers, which will be held here in our city next month." Sunset continued. "Anyone here in Canterlot, as well as the cities nearby, are welcome to come and sign up to enter."

"The WCQ's?" asked Vinyl Scratch, sitting with her friend Octavia Melody. "Sounds pretty cool, doesn't it Tavi?"

"Hmmm... I do admit, it does sound particularly interesting." the sepia-skinned teen replied. "Perhaps I should give it a try..."

"The winner of the tournament will receive an invitation to the WCQ's this year, and it will be hand-delivered by an official from Industrial Illusions." Sunset went on to explain. "But in addition, this official has also promised another secret prize for the tournament champion as well; a rare, one-of-a-kind item that no Duelist would pass up the chance to receive! ...At least that's what he told me, that is."

"One-of-a-kind?" asked Button Mash as he temporarily paused the video game he was playing on his cellphone to listen to the announcement. "I wonder what it could be...? I'll bet it's some mega-rare card, or maybe even a limited-edition D-Pad!" The young boy was almost salivating at the thought of what this "secret prize" could be.

"Sign-ups will take place tomorrow at the Canterlot Community Center, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m." the red-and-yellow teen told everyone. "After that, those who signed up will take part in preliminary rounds to determine who will enter the main tournament." She then added, "Also, I'm sure many of you are probably wondering why I'm the one giving such an announcement: That's because I will be acting as the official Judge for the competition!"

A collective gasp could be heard throughout the entire school the moment Sunset revealed herself as the Judge for the tournament. "No way!!" said Derpy, having nearly shot the milk she was drinking out of her nose from the shock. "Sunset became a Tournament Judge? I didn't know... Then again, I guess I shouldn't be so surprised, considering how well she did against The Doctor..." She then turned over to the person she was sitting next to and asked them, "Did you know anything about that?"

"...Pfffft." was the only response she got from her table-mate, Flufflepuff.

Wrapping everything up, Sunset then said, "That is all for the opening announcements. Have a good day here at CHS, and I hope to see many of you tomorrow at the Community Center."

Taking out her Duel Pad, Rainbow Dash then searched for info regarding the tournament that Sunset was talking about. "Yep, there it is:" she said to her friends. "They just put up a promo about the tournament online. Now everybody in the area'll know about it."

"That means that we could possibly see Duelists that we have never encountered before coming to compete!" Rarity pointed out. "Oh, I wish I could have the chance to Duel some of them."

"I must admit, I'd like that kind of opportunity too; to be able to play against people other than the ones around us." Twilight told her. "It would be neat to challenge ourselves with people from further away, using Decks we might not have seen before."

"Well, maybe we can't Duel 'em now, but there's always another chance right on down the road." said Applejack.

"In fact, I might even hit one of 'em up for a Duel after the tournament's done!" Rainbow Dash told her friends. "After all, I wanna test my new Deck out, and it'd help to have a practice partner." She then turned over to Fluttershy and asked her, "Speakin' of which, whad'ya say you n' I go have a quick Duel after school's done?"

"M-me?" asked the pale-yellow teen. "I... I'm sorry, Rainbow... I have something to do after school, so I'm afraid I can't make it..."

"Huh? You do?" asked the cyan-skinned girl. "Doin' what?"

"...I... I can't say." Fluttershy answered. "I'm sorry..."

"Come t' think of it, you've been busy with stuff since yesterday..." Rainbow Dash pointed out to her shy friend. "You didn't even wanna come with me to the football game here at the school last night. So what's up?"

"Honestly, Rainbow... You shouldn't pry into Fluttershy's personal business like that." Rarity told her. "If she can't tell us, then we should respect her privacy."

"...Yeah, I guess ya gotta point there." the athletic teen admitted. "Sorry, Flutters..."

"...It's okay. I understand." the shy girl responded. She then asked, "So, um... not to pry into your business myself, but... are all of you going to meet up with Sunset at the Community Center later?"

"I know Spike and I will be." Twilight answered. "I agreed to assist her with the tournament and everything, after all."

"I managed to make some significant progress on that dress order that I mentioned before, so I'll be able to come by." Rarity stated.

"I'll be there." said Applejack. "Granny told me that she n' Big Mac'll be there to cater the event, an' Ah know they'll be needin' another set'a arms to help 'em out."

"I'd be pretty bored just sittin' at home all day doin' nothin'." Rainbow Dash told the others. "So, sure. I'll pop by and see who's there."

"I'm coming too..." Fluttershy then stated. "But... I'll be a little later, since I have something important do... Like I said earlier..."

"And I have absoLUTELY nothing else better to do with my time than be where all of you guys are!" Pinkie Pie chimed in.

"Then I guess that settles it:" said Twilight. "We'll all be there to lend Sunset a hoof- er, I mean HAND." The other girls nodded before they got up from their table to go to their First Period classes.

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After the school let out the next day, Sunset, Twilight, and most of their group were already at the Canterlot Community Center, where sign-ups for the upcoming tournament were about to take place. The jacket-wearing teen now had something to wear ON her jacket: A shiny, golden badge that said "Official Tournament Judge". Checking her cellphone clock, Sunset said to herself, "It's 2:56... Four minutes until we start." She then spun her swivel chair around and said to her friends, "Thanks for coming by to help me, girls. I really appreciate it."

"Eh, no biggie." Rainbow Dash said in a casual tone of voice. "We just figured you could use a hand or two."

"N-not that we don't think you can handle things on your own, of course." Rarity added. "We just felt that we ought to help out in any way we can."

"I know." Sunset responded. "And again, I appreciate whatever help you can offer me. Speaking of which..." The red-and-yellow girl then picked up a small pile of papers, handed them to Twilight, and asked her, "Could you go and see Mr. Dunstan and have him make copies of these? It's the modified banlist for the tournament, and I want to hand them out to everyone who comes in."

"Sure thing, Sunset." Twilight said with a nod as she took the papers. "How many?"

"As many as you can." Sunset told her. "If we're short, we can always tape them onto the wall or something. Just make sure there's enough for the people that will make it into the main competition." The purple-skinned girl nodded and left to take care of the task. After Twilight was a good distance away, Sunset then turned over to the rest of her friends and said to them, "Um, girls...? There's something I need to talk to you about."

"Uh, what is it?" asked Rainbow Dash.

"Well... it's kinda weird, and I don't really know for sure what it's all about, but..." Sunset paused for a moment, trying to figure out how to best put her thought into words. Eventually, she told them, "Last Tuesday night... I... Well, I had this dream..."

"A... dream?" asked Applejack. "Last Tuesday?" After Sunset had mentioned it, AJ and the others started to get a slight sense of déjà vu.

"In the dream, I saw myself looking into a fountain..." the inter-dimensional girl told her friends. "Only... I looked very different. My hair was the same color, but it was much straighter. And I was wearing these pure-white robes instead of what I wear normally. Thinking about it some more, those robes looked exactly like the ones I had in that other dream; the one where I saw that big, scary door..."

Having the feeling like she already knew the answer, Rarity then asked her, "So... did you, um... see anyone else in this dream, Sunset dear?"

"...Well, actually I did." Sunset answered. "There was another girl my age that came over to me. And other than the fact that she was also wearing similar robes to ones I had... She looked exactly like Twilight!"

The others gasped in surprise. As they had already figured, Sunset had a dream just like the one that Twilight had told them about earlier on. "You're kiddin' me!" exclaimed Rainbow Dash.

"I'm not lying, Rainbow." the red-and-yellow girl told her. "I know what I saw, and I definitely remember seeing Twilight in my dream! Only... I didn't call her Twilight... And she didn't call me by my name either; She called me 'Sun'Et'... and I called her 'Spakah'."

"Sun'Et and Spakah?" asked Pinkie Pie. "You mean the names that Twi-"

But before she could finish that statement, Applejack quickly covered her mouth so that Sunset wouldn't hear. Luckily, the jacket-clad teen did not hear what the pink girl said. Trying her best not to let her friend blow the secret they promised to keep, the farm girl then asked Sunset, "So... Ah don't suppose y'all told Twi about your dream, did ya?"

"No, I haven't yet." she replied. "Normally, I would tell her about things like this, but with the tournament going on, I don't want her thinking about something like that and not be able to concentrate on helping me out. So, could you all keep this a secret until after the tournament is done? Please?"

"Um... of course, darling." Rarity replied. "We promise not to tell her until you're ready to."

"Thanks, girls." the red-and-yellow girl said, trying her best to smile. She then looked beside them all and realized something. "Uh oh... Fluttershy isn't here yet. I didn't realize that, since I'm so used to us all being together. I was planning to tell her, too."

"We'll pass the message along for ya." Applejack offered, all the while, still covering Pinkie's mouth.

"Thanks." After that was all settled, Sunset then saw Twilight coming back over with a large stack of papers. "Ah, you're back! Thanks for getting that done for me." she told her.

"Happy to help." Twilight responded, handing the pile over to her friend. Glancing over at Applejack and seeing that she was covering Pinkie's mouth, she asked them, "Um... did I miss something? What are you two doing?"

"Um, me? I... I, uh..." Applejack didn't want to say that Pinkie was about to blow the secret they promised to keep, but she didn't want to tell a lie either (as it wasn't in her nature to do so).

Luckily, she didn't have to lie; Pinkie pushed AJ's hand away from her mouth and said, "AJ's helping me practice being a ventriloquist!"

"A... ventriloquist?" asked Spike, popping out from Twilight's back backpack and raising an eyebrow, as did Twilight.

"Yeah! You know, like that Jeff guy!" the silly pink girl told her. "I thought that it would help make me even funnier, so I decided to try it out!"

The young Princess felt that the answer to her question was a very unusual one. But she didn't think much of it, considering that it was Pinkie who gave such an answer. "Oh, okay then." she replied, suspecting nothing.

Relieved, Applejack then whispered, "Thanks, Pinkie..."

"No prob." she whispered back. "But next time, warn me if you're gonna do that." Pinkie sniffed a little and then asked her, "Have you been using a new hand soap? I thought I smelled lilac..." AJ blushed a little, but offered no response.

Looking over at the clock, Twilight saw that it was now 2:59 p.m., and the second hand was a quarter into its current cycle. "We're almost ready to open the doors."

"Okay, does everyone know their job?" Sunset asked them. "AJ, Rainbow; you guys make sure that everyone stays in line and follows the rules. We don't need anyone cutting in line or starting fights; especially physical fights."

"Got it." said Rainbow as she and Applejack gave a confirming nod.

"Rarity and Pinkie will handle the actual sign-ups." Sunset then stated. "Make sure they print their names clearly and show their I.D.'s. Afterwards, give them a identification number." The two girls nodded to say that they understood their job. Turning over to Twilight, the red-and-yellow girl told her, "I'll need you to help me out later after the sign-ups are through. Until then, I need you and Spike to supervise things with me."

"I'll do my best, Sunset." the young Princess told her.

"Same here!" Spike added, giving a salute.

"Then if everyone's clear on what they need to do," Sunset began as she walked over to the double glass doors, pulling a key out of her jacket pocket, "then let's open these doors and let everyone in!"

As expected, there was already a good-sized crowd waiting outside, hoping to register for the tournament. Duelists from all over the area - both in Canterlot City as well as beyond it, were gathered together, talking about their collections, trading cards with each other; some were even having practice games with each other. "Hey, they're unlocking the doors!" shouted someone in the crowd. Immediately, everyone stopped what they were doing to look over at the doors, seeing that Sunset was already there, using her key to unlock the entrance.

Once the doors opened, Sunset walked outside with the rest of her friends, preparing to speak to the crowd. "Attention Duelists!" she announced. "Thank you for coming here to take part in the WCQ Qualification Tournament!"

"If you were hoping for Sunnie to make a joke referring to her hair, we're sorry we disappointed you." interrupted Pinkie.

"Um... yes, anyway..." Sunset said next, clearing her throat and returning her attention to the crowd, "before you can compete in tomorrow's tournament, you must first sign up for and pass the Preliminary Rounds. I will explain the details later on, but for now, I want everyone here to form two single-file lines up to the tables you see ahead of you: There, you must present your official Industrial Illusions Tournament I.D. and print your name on the sign-up sheet. After 6 o' clock, we will end the sign-ups and begin the Prelims. So make sure you sign up as soon as you can!"

"Okay, everyone!" Applejack called out to the crowd. "Start formin' a line like Sunset told ya!"

"Same over here!" Rainbow Dash chimed in. The people in the crowd then arranged themselves into two neat and orderly lines. Rarity and Pinkie returned to the tables to help people sign up, while Sunset and Twilight stood off to the side to see who all came by to enter.

"Looks like a good turnout so far, doesn't it?" asked Spike, still sitting in Twilight's backpack. "I mean, there's like a hundred people here already!"

"Yeah, it looks like the tournament's going to be a big success." agreed Twilight. "Personally, I can't wait to see it!"

"You and me both, Twilight." Sunset told her. She then peered into the lines, looking at all of the people lined up.

"Are you looking for anyone in particular, Sunset?" Spike asked.

"Just seeing if I recognize anybody, that's all." the jacket-wearing girl answered. Spotting someone at the front right away, she told the two of them, "Look, there's Flash! He just finished signing up."

"Well, he did tell us yesterday that he was going to enter, after all." Twilight reminded her friend. Seeing someone else in the line in front of her, she said to her friend, "Hey! Over there! It's Sweetie Belle!"

"Wait, did you say Sweeite Belle??" asked Sunset, a bit surprised. When she looked over for herself, she did indeed see Rarity's younger sister waiting to sign up. "Wow... I'll admit, I didn't expect her to try out for the tournament. But it's good to see her here."

Rarity herself was also shocked, but pleased to see her sister trying out for the tournament. "I must say, I didn't know you wanted to enter the tournament, Sweetie Belle." the purple-haired girl told her.

"I know... I'm kinda surprised, too." Sweetie replied, blushing and rubbing the back of her head. "But I've been practicing a whole lot, and I wanted to get the Duel Monsters Crusaders' name out there... So me, Scootaloo, Bloom, and Babs all agreed that I should play in the tournament. Plus, I got a really cool new card that I wanna show off to everybody, so there's that."

"Well, I wish the best of luck to you, Sweetie." Rarity told her. "I promise that I'll be rooting for you the whole time!"

"Thanks, Rarity. I'll do my best! I promise!" the younger sister replied. She then showed her I.D. and signed her name to get into the Prelims.

"Wow, I didn't know you were gonna enter the tournament!" Pinkie Pie said to the person in front of her. "In fact, I didn't even know you PLAYED Duel Monsters!"

"Hmhmhmm..." chuckled the woman she was speaking to. "I am known for collecting many an artifact, but I'm also a strong Duelist; that's a fact." As it turned out, the woman was none other than Zecora, identifiable by her tribal-like attire (and her penchant for rhyming). "I wish to make my tournament debut, and I plan to start with a victory or two."

"Well, I hope ya do well, Zecora!" said the pink teen. "By the way," she then asked, "what kinda Deck do ya have?"

"Do not dismay, but I cannot say." the zebra-striped woman replied.

"Awwwww... Oh well. Worth asking." Pinkie responded as she helped her finish signing up. After Zecora left, the pink teen then yelled, "Who's next?!"

"I am! I am!!" shouted the voice of a young girl. It was Gabby, a friend of both Gilda and Martin and known for her very ecstatic personality. Slapping her I.D. card on the table, she then said to Pinkie Pie, "Sign me up, too!"

"Wow... now THAT'S what I call an enthusiastic first impression!" the party-lover told her. "I'd be happy to get ya signed up!" Noticing the necklace she was wearing, Pinkie asked the girl, "Saaaaaay, I've seen that griffony-looking thing before! A friend of mine named Gilda has one just like it on her shirt!"

"You know her?" asked Gabby with a smile. "She's a friend of mine too! She's been teaching some super-awesome new strategies for my Deck. She even lent me some of her cards to make it even better!"

"That's great to hear!" said the silly pink girl as she finished Gabby's sign-up. She then asked her, "So, is Gilda coming here for the tournament, too?"

"Yeah, but she's also bringing along someone that wants to enter, so she'll be a little bit." the grey-skinned girl answered her. "To be honest, I hope I don't have to fight her first; I haven't won a Duel against her so far..."

"I'm sure you'll win one sooner or later!" Pinkie said, trying to lift the girl's spirits up. "Until then, just keep on doin' your best!"

"I will! Definitely!" Gabby replied with a big grin as she took her I.D. card back and got out of the line.

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An hour passed by since the doors opened, and the sign-ups were still going on. It almost seemed like the flow of people coming into the community center was endless. Sunset and Twilight had since gotten a pair of chairs to sit down on as the lines continued to move. "Man... these people just keep on comin', one right after another..." Spike noted. "I've lost count of how many that came in so far."

"What did you expect?" asked Sunset, her head pointed up wards and staring up at the ceiling. "This is the WCQ's we're talking about here: One of the biggest Duel Monsters Tournaments in the whole world. If hardly anyone showed up, THAT would have been surprising."

"More surprising than me?" asked a girl's voice.

Sunset immediately recognized the voice as someone she knew. When she looked ahead of her, she saw none other than her friend from Bloodstone, Ember. "Ember?! Is that you?" she asked.

"Who were you expecting? Puff the Magic Dragon?" the blue-skinned girl asked.

Standing up from her chair, she then introduced her friends to Ember, saying, "This is Twilight and her drag- er... DOG, Spike." She then said to the two of them, "Guys, this is Ember; the girl from Bloodstone I told you about earlier."

"Um, pleased to meet you." said the young Princess.

"Yeah, same here." Spike added, both of them felt a little nervous, as Ember seemed to radiate an intimidating aura around herself.

Stepping back a bit, Ember then asked Sunset, "Um... did that dog just say something?"

Sighing a little, Sunset then said in a stern voice, "Spike... what did we tell you about talking to other people just like that?"

"Sorry...! It just kinda came out." the dragon-turned-puppy admitted.

Rubbing the back of her head, she then told her faraway friend, "Yeah, he can talk, Ember. But not everyone here knows that, so could you keep it a secret?"

"Sure, I guess." Ember promised her. "I wasn't going to tell anyone anyway."

Satisfied with that answer, the red-and-yellow girl then asked her, "So, did you come to sign up for the tournament?"

"Already did." said Ember, showing a numbered sticker (this one labeled 65) that was handed to her and the other applicants. "And not only that; I'm planning to make my grand debut as a Pro starting with this tournament!"

"So I guess your dad was okay with you coming here to compete?" Sunset then asked, knowing that back when they first met, Ember's father Torch was against her playing Duel Monsters.

"Don't you worry:" the tough girl told her. "When I told him about joining the tournament, he insisted that I go and do it without any hesitation. So yeah, I think he's okay with the whole thing."

"Well that's good to hear." said Twilight. She then asked, "So is there any particular reason you wanted to enter the tournament? Like for the prize or just for the competition?"

"Well, there IS one huge reason why I'm here." said Ember. She then turned to face Sunset, pointed to her, and said, "And YOU'RE that reason."

"Um... me?" asked the red-and-yellow girl, sweating a little.

"Sunset," the Bloodstone Duelist began, "when you and I first dueled each other, I played such a horrible game against you that didn't even come close to representing the Duelist I really am. Even after I've resolved things with my father, that one Duel still eats at me... So when I found out that you were the official Judge for this tournament, I saw it as an opportunity; an opportunity to give you the Duel that I should have given you when we first met! I want to show you the REAL me this time around, and I don't plan on losing so badly this time! No, scratch that - I don't plan on losing at all!"

Sunset was a bit taken aback by the challenge Ember gave to her. Smiling a bit, she then told her, "Ember, I'd love nothing more than to face you when you're truly at your best. I must admit - I didn't feel very good winning that first Duel we had, due to the circumstances at the time. How about this: If you do well in this tournament, I'll accept your challenge. Sound good?"

"Heh, sounds perfect." the blue-skinned girl replied as she shook hands with her friendly rival, sealing the deal. "Just don't get TOO scared while you're watching me Duel out there." Sunset nodded as they both smirked at each other, a fiery spirit welling up in each of them.

"Woah... that was some exchange they had with each other..." said Twilight.

"Not to mention that Ember person's really cool, too..." said Spike. "Kinda cute, too. Um, don't tell Rarity I said that, okay?" Twilight chuckled a little in response.

A half hour later, the vast majority of the crowds had already signed up and were waiting in the lobby. The lines were starting to get shorter, but they were still relatively long. Since then, Sunset and the others had seen several more familiar faces signing up for the tournament, such as Derpy and Octavia, as well as Indigo Bolt, a young girl who had earlier on watched Twilight's Duel with Mulia Mild. Of course, there were many, MANY more people that they didn't know or even recognize, but that only meant that the tournament could possibly host some fresh faces as well. At some point, Applejack and Rainbow Dash decided to stay over with Sunset, Twilight, and Spike to keep them company while keeping an eye on the crowds.

"I wonder how many people have entered so far..." Twilight pondered to herself after a few more minutes passed by.

"According to Rarity," Sunset answered her, "She told me that there have been about 116 when I last asked her."

"A hundred and sixteen?!" exclaimed Spike. "That's crazy!"

"And there's still a whole bunch more comin' in." noted Applejack. "An' don't forget: there's people comin' here from outside of the city to compete as well."

"I know... there's a lot of Duelists I don't even recognize in those lines..." Sunset stated. "For instance..." She then pointed to an older teenage boy in the line with purple skin and long, icy-blue hair. "I've never seen anyone like that person before in the city..."

"And don't forget, there was that girl Ember, as well as Gilda's friend, Gabby." Twilight pointed out. "They're from other towns, too."

"Speakin' of which, where IS Gilda?" Rainbow Dash asked. "She called earlier t' say that she was comin' for the tournament, but she ain't here yet! Not only that, Fluttershy's a no-show too!"

"I'm sure they'll be here soon, Rainbow." Sunset told her.

"Scratch that, Sunset... They're here already!" said Spike. "Look!"

Everyone glanced over towards the doors leading into the community center. Just as Spike had told them, Gilda was standing in line, along with Fluttershy. "It IS them!" Applejack exclaimed.

"But... what's with Fluttershy?" asked Twilight. "She's not wearing her usual dress; like the one she had on at school today."

"Wait a sec... that's the dueling outfit Rarity made for her before the Inter-school Duel!" Rainbow Dash realized.

"Dueling outfit?" asked Spike. Both he and Twilight weren't sure what that meant.

"When Fluttershy was picked t' duel Gilda a coupla months ago," Applejack explained to them, "Rare made her that outfit t' help boost her confidence. But she doesn't wear it often; only when she's doin' somethin' majorly big..." Gasping, the farm girl then figured it all out. "Hold on...! Ah think Fluttershy's enterin' the tournament, too!"

"She is?!?" exclaimed Sunset, surprised just like the rest of them were. Curious, the five of them rushed over to Fluttershy and Gilda to figure out what was going on.

Noticing her friends coming their way, the shy, yellow girl let out a frightened peep and said, "Gilda, look...! It's Sunset and the others...!"

"Hm?" The kindly roughneck from Griffonstone High peeked over to see their friends coming. "Heh, I guess they finally figured out what we're up to, huh?" she asked. "Might as well let 'em all know what's up."

Finally reaching them, Sunset then said to Fluttershy and Gilda, "We saw you both in line; are you two both entering the tournament?"

"Nah, we just REALLY like standin' in line." Gilda answered sarcastically. "You better believe that we're entering the tournament! Right, Fluttershy?"

"Um... she's right." the shy girl confirmed.

"So... when y'all said you had stuff t' do today..." Applejack began to inquire her, "it was related to this?"

"...Y-yes, that's right." Fluttershy answered. "And, at Sunset's party... when I said that my mother called me... It was actually Gilda calling me about the tournament. I'm really sorry I lied about that, but I wanted to keep everything a secret until today."

"How come?" asked Twilight. "Why keep it a secret?"

"Well," she began to nervously answer, "it's just that... I know none of you were entering the tournament, and I... I didn't want to look selfish for entering when none of you were... that's all."

"Is that all?" asked Rainbow Dash. "You had nothin' to worry about, Fluttershy. Just 'cause none of us were going to play in the tournament doesn't mean you couldn't. We were just surprised that you wanted to play in it in the first place. I mean yeah, you did well at the Inter-school Duel, but you were chosen for it. It's not like you signed up for it."

"Funny you mentioned that, Dash... The Inter-school Duel has a lot to do with why Fluttershy n' I are gonna compete in the tournament." Gilda told them.

"What do you mean by that?" asked Sunset.

"It's pretty simple, actually." the Griffonstone girl told her. "I just want to have a rematch with Fluttershy here, in front of a huge crowd and everything. So when I heard about the tournament comin' up, I called her to say that I wanted us to enter the competition together. I wasn't gonna play unless she was, too."

"I didn't want to deny her a chance to enter the tournament, since she really sounded like she wanted to be in it... so I agreed to go with her." Fluttershy then added. "But don't worry: She wasn't forcing me to play in it or anything... This was something I chose to do... And to be honest, I really do want to duel Gilda again. I can't explain it, but... the thought of dueling her again is... well... exciting!"

"I know that feeling." Rainbow Dash told her. "That's your fighting spirit, Flutters. A tiny flame inside of ya that burns up when you face someone tough! Or when you're fightin' for something you believe in, like when you told us how ya took down that Fast Buck guy at the park."

"A... fighting spirit...?" asked Fluttershy, a bit confused. "I... I didn't even know I could have something like that..."

"Don't be crazy." Gilda told her. "Everybody's got a fighting spirit inside of 'em, just waitin' to be unleashed! It's like I said before: You're a tough person, probably more than ya realize. And that's the person I want to duel in the tournament!"

"Gilda..." Fluttershy spoke, flattered that her friend/rival spoke so highly of her.

"But... if all you want is a rematch," Twilight began to ask them, "why don't you just have one? It's not like you couldn't duel each other anytime you wanted."

"Maybe," Sunset answered her, "but I think there's more to it than that. Isn't that right, Gilda?"

"Yep." said the Griffonstone girl. "When we had our first Duel, it was in front of a big audience on a grand stage. Yeah, I know, I wouldn't exactly call a high school soccer field a 'grand stage', but you get the point. The thing is, for something as big as our rematch together, I just wanna recreate that same feeling we had when we faced each other." She then turned towards the normally-shy girl and said to her, "Fluttershy, 'cause of you, I've gotten a lot better... both in Duel Monsters and in just bein' a good person. And I know you've done the same yourself. When and if we face each other in the tournament, I know it'll be our best Duel yet, no matter who wins. But make no mistake; I'm gonna beat you this time!"

Fluttershy blushed a little after hearing all that, and was happy to know that Gilda was taking her more seriously than she did when they first met. Putting on a smile, she told her with a slight giggle, "I accept your challenge, Gilda...! And... and I'll win!" The roughneck was pleased to hear her say that.

Sunset and the others were also happy to see their friend Fluttershy becoming a bit braver, as well as seeing both her and Gilda getting along so well even after their first not-so-friendly meeting during the Inter-school Duel. "That's something I like to see." Twilight noted. "Even though they're rivals with each other, they're trying to help each other become stronger in their own way." Utopia felt the same way as well, watching the scene from inside Twilight's Deck.

Wrapping up their conversation, Sunset then said to them, "Well, if you two want to have that big rematch with each other, make sure you sign up right away. Personally, it'd be an honor to be the judge for your match." The two girls nodded and waited patiently for their turn to sign up.

"Man... never knew Gilda could be that deep about stuff." Rainbow Dash stated.

"Yeah, she's like that." said Gabby, surprising everyone by her sudden appearance. "Tough outer shell with a soft inside; and all of it's sweet as can be! Just like those creamy egg-thingies."

Gilda blushed a little after hearing that. "Um... I thought I told ya t' stop comparing me to those chocolate eggs... It's embarrassing!"

"But it totally fits you!" Gabby informed her.

"Th-that doesn't mean I want you t' go tellin' it t' people!" the roughneck protested. "I've got an image t' keep, y'know?!" The rest of them chuckled a bit at the scene before heading back to where they were sitting earlier.

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It was now past 5:30, and the lines to sign up for the tournament were reduced to hardly anything. At this point, Sunset and the others decided to join up with Rarity and Pinkie Pie at the tables to help out. Fluttershy decided to see them too; after she and Gilda signed up for the tournament, the usually-timid girl decided to give them a hand with the rest of the work (making up for the fact that she hadn't been there to help out most of the time). Gilda also decided to assist them as well, feeling as though she was the reason for Fluttershy being a no-show.

"So, Rarity? Pinkie? How many people do we have for the Prelims?" asked Sunset.

"Quite a lot, as a matter of fact!" the young fashionista told her. She then showed them the list that she clipped onto her clipboard. "Just look at all of these names! And this is only from my OWN lists; I can safely assume that Pinkie has almost the same amount on hers as well!"

"Your assumption is right on the button!" said Pinkie with her usual enthusiasm. "Sorry 'bout the rhyme; When ya hear Zecora speaking that way, it kinda makes you wanna do it too."

"Alright! This tournament's gonna be so awesome!" said Rainbow Dash in excitement at the thought of so many people taking part in the competition.

"Oh my..." said Fluttershy, looking at all of the names. "I didn't realize there would be so many people here..."

"Works for me." Gilda said without much of a care in the world. "Just means there's more people to beat! So I say bring 'em on!"

Looking at the clock, Sunset said to the others, "Well, it's almost six, so Twilight and I should get ready to make the announcements for the Prelims." She then asked her friend, "You think you can handle it, Twi?"

"I think I can." the purple teen replied. "I've been doing a lot of public speaking since I became a Princess, so I'm used to it by now. Wish I could say I was a natural at it."

"You're tellin' me; I still remember how stressed-out you were rehearsing your coronation speech." noted Spike.

"I'll admit, I didn't think I'd get through it, either." Twilight told him. "I tried that trick where I just picture the audience naked, but... well, you know."

As Sunset looked over the papers that had their announcements written on them, she glanced out the doors and noticed something outside. When she saw what was out there, her heart sank a little. "Oh no..." she groaned. "It can't be..."

"Somethin' wrong, Sugarcube?" Applejack asked Sunset.

"...Look." the red-and-yellow girl said, pointing outside. When the others looked in the direction she was pointing in, they all let out a gasp as three girls their age walked in through the doors.

The first one had sky-blue skin and raspberry-pink eyes. She had long, blue hair with darker blue streaks, done up into a ponytail that hung behind her upper back. She wore a dark-purple shirt with a magenta collar and cuffs, with light blue fasteners on the front and an emblem on upper right part of the shirt; the emblem was a pink heart with a jagged, light-blue musical note on top of it. The rest of her outfit consisted of a light-pink skirt, pink studded bracelets, and a pair of hot-pink sneaker boots.

The second girl had light purple skin and eyes colored in a much darker purple. Her hair was about the same color as her eyes, with a few streaks of light aquamarine, done into a pair of long pigtails with silver star-shaped accessories. She wore a bluish-green jacket with its sleeves torn off overtop of a white tube-top shirt. On each of her arms were three plain, purple bracelets. She wore long, mulberry-purple pants held up with a purple belt with a star-shaped buckle, finishing with a pair of dark purple boots.

The last of the three - who appeared to be the head of the group, had light yellow skin with pink-colored eyes, similar to the first girl's eyes. Her orange-and-yellow hair was very poofy, not unlike Pinkie Pie's hair, topped with a deep purple headband decorated with gold spikes. She wore a small, light-purple coat overtop of a purple jumper, as well as a gold studded belt with a jewel-shaped buckle around her waist. On her left hip was an accessory shaped like a gold jewel overtop of a purple treble clef. Her long pants were light purple, decorated with several darker-colored triangles, and on her feet were a pair of dark-purple boots, each with gold spikes running along the back, as well as on a band on the front.

"Aww no... not THOSE three..." groaned Rainbow Dash. "Of all the people to come here, why THEM?"

"To be honest, I was kinda curious when they'd pop up in the story..." Pinkie Pie admitted. "I mean, I COULDN'T have been the only one, right?" Of course, her friends had no idea what she meant.

The three girls walked in from outside, heading into the community center. Glancing over to the tables where Sunset and her friends were, the orange-haired girl chuckled a bit and said, "It looks like our audience is waiting for us."

"Sure looks like it, Adagio." said the girl with the pigtails, folding her arms and looking a bit smug. "And they look REAL happy t' see us comin'."

"Really, Aria?" asked the light-blue girl, confused. "They don't look too happy at all to me..."

Groaning, the girl named Aria said to the light-blue girl, "Honestly, Sonata... Do you even KNOW the meaning of the word, 'sarcasm'?"

"Isn't that what we had at that taco place last night?" Sonata then asked. "Y'know, they put it in that napkin in a basket so that it looked like the taco was sweating?"

"Urrgh... no! You're thinkin' of a tacos sudados!" Aria informed her. "Seriously, do you only ever have tacos on the brain?!"

"...Only when I'm hungry, Aria." the ponytailed girl simply replied. That answer caused Aria to facepalm herself in mild frustration.

"If the two of you are quite finished," said the third girl - named Adagio, in a slightly annoyed voice, "we have work to do here. So could we stay focused for at least a minute?" Aria grumbled a bit, but decided to do as Adagio told her. Sonata still looked somewhat befuddled, but complied with the request as well. Turning their attention back to the sign-up tables, the three of them walked over towards them. Stopping in front of Sunset and her friends, Adagio said to them, "Well, well... if it isn't the Rainbooms. It's been sooooo long..."

(Unfortunately not long enough...) thought Sunset. She then asked them, "And what - exactly, are the three of you doing here? I thought the three of you left town after Celestia had you three expelled for that stunt you pulled at the Battle of the Bands."

"Believe me, I haven't forgotten about that, Shimmer." Adagio told her, a hint of anger in her voice. "But then, how COULD I forget about the time when we were set for taking over this world, only to end up with the very source of our powers literally shattered to pieces?" Regaining her composure, she formed a sly smile and then said to Sunset, "But... that's all in the past now. After all, there are much bigger things to worry about in this world than things such as that... So you need not worry about the three of us."

"...Good to know." Sunset replied, though based on the tone of her voice, you could tell that she wasn't convinced that their old foes were truly on the level. "It's safe to assume you're not here to chat with me, right? You three are thinking of entering the tournament?"

"Actually, only one of us is here for your little tournament." Adagio answered her. Pointing behind her with her thumb, she told Sunset, "Sonata is the one entering."

This surprised Sunset and her friends a little, considering that they knew that Sonata wasn't exactly the brains of the group. "Uh, why her?" Applejack asked out of curiosity.

"Because scissors beats paper." Aria grumbled a bit, feeling a bit embarrassed. Sonata giggled a little, making her hand to look like a pair of scissors and "snipping" them.

"Honestly, if we could, we'd all enter the tournament," Adagio told them all. "But admittedly, we only had enough cards to put together one Deck. It's not easy for inter-dimensional beings to make an honest living in an unfamiliar world... Of course, you'd know all about that, wouldn't you, Shimmer?"

"Enough with the drama, Adagio," said Sunset, a bit impatient, "the cut-off time for sign-ups is 6 o' clock, which is only a few minutes from now. So is your sister entering or not?"

"Oh, right... of course." she replied back. "Where ARE my manners...?" Looking over towards the light-blue girl, she told her, "Sonata, if you would...?"

"...If I would what?" she asked, not having paid much attention to the earlier conversation.

"Urrgh... She wants you to go sign your name on the sheet so you can enter the tournament... Duh." Aria groaned. "Honestly, if it was me entering, we wouldn't have to explain the whole thing ten times..."

"Well, if you wanna enter it next time, get better at rock-paper-scissors." Sonata said a bit smugly as she signed her name on the sheet. Aria grumbled a bit hearing that remark.

Taking the sheet, Sunset handed the light-blue girl a sticker with a number on it, like the one Ember had shown earlier. "Your number is 229. Wait in the lobby with the rest of the competitors until the Prelims start." Sunset said in a somewhat monotone voice. One could tell she wasn't exactly happy about letting one of the Dazzlings enter the tournament.

"A pleasure doing business with you, Shimmer." Adagio told her in a condescending tone of voice. "Until we meet again." The trio then took their leave to wait for the Preliminary Rounds to begin.

Sighing loudly, Sunset folded her arms on the table and put her head down in-between them, groaning, "Of all the things to happen today, WHY did those three have to enter the tournament I'M supposed to be judging...?"

"Just lucky, I guess..." Rainbow Dash said, also not happy about the whole thing. "BAD luck."

"Um... what's goin' on?" asked Gilda. "Why did those three upset you so much?"

"...Oh my... I forgot, you weren't there when it happened." Rarity responded.

"When what happened?" asked the Griffonstone student.

"Last year," Applejack started to tell her, "our school had a music competition called the Battle of the Bands. Those three girls - Adagio Dazzle, Aria Blaze, and Sonata Dusk, formed a band t' compete. But it was just a trick so that they could control all'o the students' minds and feed off of their negative emotions t' become even MORE powerful."

"Woah... that sounds rough." said Gilda. "Sure glad they didn't try that at our school; there's more than enough negative stuff there to make a banquet for 'em."

"When we found out what they were up to," Twilight then explained, "we formed a band of our own to try and stop them. It wasn't easy, but we managed to defeat them and put an end to their plans by destroying the pendants they used to wear around their necks. Without them, they couldn't sing anymore and thus, they couldn't control people with their songs either."

"Ohhhh... so that's what the poofy-haired chick meant with the whole 'shattering' thing..." the Griffonstone student recalled. She then asked Sunset, "Well, if you have such a problem with them, they why didn't ya just kick 'em out? I mean, you didn't have to let them into the tournament."

"...That's just the problem, Gilda. I can't do that." the red-and-yellow girl told her. "It's against regulations to prevent anyone from entering an official Duel Monsters Tournament over personal issues or anything like that. I had to allow them to enter even though I don't like them very much."

At that moment, Pinkie began humming to herself, as if she was in deep thought about something. "Is something the matter, Pinkie...?" asked Fluttershy.

"Hm? Oh, just thinkin' 'bout some things." the pink girl answered her. "Like how it's odd that the Dazzlings just HAPPENED to enter the tournament that Sunnie's judging."

"...Hmmm, now that you mention it," Rarity pondered, "it DOES seem a tad unusual that they would show up literally out of nowhere just for this tournament. In fact, I never even knew they still lived around the area or even played Duel Monsters until now..."

"That does seem a li'l weird that those three - whom we haven't seen since the Battle of the Bands, would just show up all of a sudden..." Applejack pointed out. "An' Ah don't think they're just here t' push our buttons. Ah think they may be up t' somethin' again..."

"I think so, too." Twilight admitted. "But let's not jump to conclusions just yet, girls. After all, there's the chance that they may have reformed themselves after what happened."

"Twilight's right." Sunset chimed in. "For now, let's just keep an eye on them and see what they're up to. That's pretty much the only thing we can do at this point." Getting up from the table, she added, "Besides, we have more important things to take care of: Twilight and I need to make the opening announcements, and Fluttershy and Gilda have to go join the rest of the competitors for the Prelims. Right now, I just everyone to do their part to make sure things go smoothly here and not be concerned about the Dazzlings."

"Good call, Sunset." said Rainbow Dash. "But if those three get into any trouble, we'll let ya know right away!"

Satisfied with that, Sunset finally formed a smile and asked Twilight, "You ready?"

Nodding, the Princess of Friendship said to her friend, "I am. Let's get the tournament started!"

"Good luck out there, Twilight!" cheered Spike. "I know you can do it!" The purple teen smiled and patted her assistant on his head before leaving the room with Sunset.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

It was finally six o' clock by the time the last few people had signed-up, and the tournament was ready to begin. All of the Duelists who entered were escorted by the rest of Sunset and Twilight's friends to another, much larger room. Inside the room were several large objects that looked like video game cabinets - much like the machines one would see in a typical arcade. The machines were colored silver and black, with a large circle in the center, a large, red button off to the right, and a pair of speakers above the cabinet's monitor screen. On the lower right side of each machine was what appeared to be a USB port.

"What are those things?" asked Sweetie Belle, having never seen a machines like these before.

"I must say, I've never seen such a device before..." noted Octavia, standing next to her friend Vinyl Scratch.

"Alright, everybody!" Applejack shouted. "Ah want all'o ya t' stay put here. In a minute, the Tournament Judge will be here to make the openin' announcements!" Everyone did as they were told, and they waited patiently.

About a minute and a half later, Sunset and Twilight walked into the room from another door (this one the door to an office, where Jay Dunstan - an official from Industrial Illusions that was overseeing the tournament, was sitting in). Turning to face them, Rainbow Dash told the pair, "Your audience is waitin', guys. Give it your best!"

Taking a deep breath and telling herself not to be nervous, Sunset beamed a smile and spoke to the crowd, "Greetings, Duelists! My name is Sunset Shimmer, the official Judge for the WCQ Qualification Tournament! With me is my assistant, Twilight Sparkle."

"Um, hello Duelists...!" the purple girl answered a bit awkwardly, as she didn't expect to have to say anything just yet.

Turning back to the crowd, Sunset then told them, "Now, according to the listings, over 230 of you have signed up to take part in the tournament tomorrow. However, I do regret to inform you, that - out of this entire crowd here, only 16 of you will make it into the main competition."

"O-only SIXTEEN?!?" gasped Derpy in shock. The rest of the crowd was equally as surprised to hear this.

"I know, it is distressing to hear, but that's what the officials from Industrial Illusions have put into place." the red-and-yellow girl explained. "Now, to determine who will make it into the main tournament, everyone here will have a turn dueling on the Duel Terminal cabinets provided by the company for use in the Preliminary Rounds."

"Duel Terminals?" asked Gilda. "So that's what they are... It's the first time I've ever seen one."

"Each Duelist will play a best two-out-of-three game against an A.I. Duelist chosen for them at random, and placed on the highest difficulty setting." Twilight told them, reading her part of the speech from a paper. "Each of you will plug your Duel Pad into the Terminal via the USB port. The machine will read the cards in your Deck, and afterwards, you will begin your Match."

"After you are done with your Match," Sunset continued, "step aside to the designated waiting area until everyone has had a turn on the machines. After that, you will be given a score based on how well you did during your Match. This score is based on numerous categories, such whether or not you won your Match, your remaining Life Points, how many turns the game lasted, etc. At the end of the Prelims, the sixteen Duelists that have the highest scores will advance to the main competition." Looking towards the crowd again, she then asked, "Is everyone clear on the rules?" There was no response, and no one raised their hands to ask a question, which told Sunset that everyone understood what they had to do. "In that case," she said, "Let the Preliminary Rounds begin!"

Looking at the sheet she was given, Twilight then called out, "We will begin by asking Duelists numbered 1 through 50 to come up to the Terminals first." At that moment, fifty people in the crowd ran over to the machines in order to get started right away. Each of them plugged their Duel Pads into the USB ports on their respective machines in order to begin their Matches.

Flash Sentry was at the end of his Match against the computer. Both he and the machine had won one game, and they were now on the tie-breaker (Flash Sentry: LP 2,000) (A.I. Duelist: LP 3,000). "I activate the effect of Heroic Champion - Excalibur!" the boy shouted. "I remove two overlay units and double his attack power!" After his monster detached its materials (Heroic Champion - Excalibur: OLU 2 - 2 = 0), it began to radiate a massive amount of power, glowing bright yellow as it did so (Heroic Champion - Excalibur: ATK 2000 x 2 = 4000). "Now! Attack directly!"

"Activating Trap Card..." said the computer Duelist. "Drowning Mirror Force... All opposing monsters in Attack Position return to the Deck..."

"You got me with that last round, but you're not going to get me with it again!" Flash said with a smirk. "I chain Trap Jammer! Since you played a Trap during the Battle Phase, this card negates and destroys it!" And with the Trap Card negated, Flash's monster wiped out the rest of the computer player's Life Points easily (A.I. Duelist: LP 3,000 - 4,000 = 0) (WINNER: Flash Sentry). "Yes! I won!"

"Not bad, Flash." Rainbow Dash complimented. "I'll admit I was worried for a sec when you lost the second Duel, but ya managed to make a comeback."

"Indeed, a most impressive feat." said Zecora, who had already finished her Match and was watching Flash's game. "You will be most difficult to beat."

"Aheheh... maybe. I guess we'll see when the tournament begins tomorrow, assuming I make it in." the boy replied.

"Are you kidding? Of COURSE you'll both get in! I know it!" Dash told the two of them. "You both won your Matches; that's sure t' give ya both high scores!"

Chuckling warmly, Zecora told her, "I truly appreciate your support, Rainbow Dash." Turning to Flash Sentry, she said to him, "And I hope to meet you in the tournament, Flash."

"Same here." he responded, shaking her hand.

Less than forty minutes after the Prelims began, the first fifty Duelists had finished their Matches. Most had difficulty playing against the computers, since they were all set to the highest skill level possible to ensure that only the best of the best could make it into the main tournament. Despite the overwhelming odds, though, rookie Duelists Sweetie Belle and Gabby managed to win their Matches, getting praise from both Rarity and Gilda respectively. Once they were done, the next group of fifty walked up to play their Matches. Among that group, only four had managed to win their games.

After the second group had finished their games, the next fifty Duelists got their turns on the Duel Terminal cabinets. Among the people in the next group was Ember, who pulled off an impressive victory against the A.I. Duelist, winning both the first two games of her Match very quickly. Sunset, who was watching her, was quite impressed and had a good feeling that she would make it into the tournament for sure.

In the next group of fifty, Several people that Sunset and her friends were familiar with now had their turns on the Duel Terminal machines. This included Fluttershy, who had entered the tournament along with Gilda. Since they both entered at about the same time, they were standing right next to each other as they played their respective Matches against the computer. Though the A.I. Duelists proved to be rather difficult, neither of them had much trouble and they both managed to win their Matches.

Derpy Hooves struggled a bit against her A.I. opponent, but wouldn't give up. After she lost the first of the three Duels, she managed to win the second one, causing the game to go into the third and final Duel (Derpy Hooves: LP 500) (A.I. Duelist: LP 2,000). Drawing her card, she then looked at the field and saw that her A.I. had Level Limit - Area B active. (Because of that card,) she thought, (any monster higher than Level 3 gets stuck in Defense Mode... and if that happens, I won't be able to attack that monster it has out...)

*******************************

Servant of Catabolism
(Effect Monster/Aqua/LIGHT/Level 3/ATK 700/DEF 500)

This card can attack your opponent directly.

*******************************

(If it attacks me next turn, I'll lose...) Derpy thought to herself. (Lucky for me, I drew this card...) Playing the card she had just drawn, she said, "I activate the Continuous Spell, Non-Spellcasting Area! While this card is on the field, every face-up non-Effect Monster on the field is immune to all other card effects!" Taking out another card from her hand, she then declared, "Then, I activate the Spell Card, Swing of Memories! This card brings back any Normal Monster from my Graveyard! And I choose the Level 8 Cosmo Queen!"

Her monster was an incredibly large woman with long, purple hands and wearing a red cloak, accessorized with a green-and-gold chest plate and a similarly-colored crown on her head that looked as if it should be too heavy for her to wear (Cosmo Queen: Level 8 / ATK 2900 / DEF 2450).

"Since Cosmo Queen's a Normal Monster," said Derpy, "your Level Limit - Area B card doesn't affect her, thanks to Non-Spellcasting Area! Which means this Duel's over! Cosmo Queen! Attack that monster! Cosmic Distortion!" Her monster then formed what appeared to be a miniature black hole, causing the tiny monster on the opposing field to be sucked inside. After that, the black hole let out a blast of energy that wiped out the A.I.'s remaining Life Points.

"Game over..." said the computer after the attack hit it (A.I. Duelist: LP 2,000 - 2,200 = 0) (WINNER: Derpy Hooves).

Letting out a sigh of relief, Derpy said to herself, "Well... I made it. I just hope the rest of the tournament won't be as hard as that Match was..."

Nearby, Octavia and Vinyl were playing their Matches as well. The young cello-player went in with her reliable Melodius Deck, while her DJ friend played her Vampire Deck. Not far away from where they were, the purple-skinned boy with ice-blue hair that Sunset had pointed out earlier had finished his Match, winning easily. According to the display on the monitor, his name was registered as Night Switch.

Elsewhere, Indigo Bolt had just won her first Duel in her Match against the A.I. and was ready to begin her second (A.I. Duelist: LP 4,000) (Indigo Bolt: LP 4,000). "Alright computer, let's Duel!" the young girl said with enthusiasm.

"Beginning turn..." said the computer. "Activating Quick-Play Spell Card... Fires of Doomsday." After the card appeared on-screen, the A.I. then explained, "Fires of Doomsday allows the player to Special Summon two 'Doomsday Tokens' to their field... Summoning Tokens..." After that, a pair of dark, whispy creatures appeared on their side of the board (Doomsday Token [x2]: Level 1 / ATK 0 / DEF 0).

(So it's already setting up for a big monster on the first turn...) Bolt figured.

"Releasing Tokens..." said the A.I. "Tribute Summoning Archfiend Emperor, the First Lord of Horror in Attack Position." Then, as quickly as the two Tokens appeared, they vanished. Then, in their place, a massively gigantic, demonic-looking creature appeared on the field, sitting upon a mighty throne and covered almost completely in scary-looking bones (Archfiend Emperor, the First Lord of Horror: Level 8 / ATK 3000 / DEF 2000).

"Wow... this thing really IS on a high difficulty setting..." said Indigo Bolt, though she still showed no fear in the face of this massive monster.

"Setting two cards face-down... Turn end." the A.I. Duelist stated.

"Then it's my turn! I draw!" shouted Indigo as she drew her first card of the Duel. Looking over her hand, she then said, "I play Pot of Desires! I banish the top ten cards of my Deck face-down and draw two more!"

As she did that, Sunset and the others decided to stroll over to see how the girl was doing. After getting a look at the monitor screen, Rainbow Dash commented, "Woah, do ya see that girls? The computer already played a 3000 ATK monster, and it's only the second turn of the Duel!"

"Well, these A.I.'s are all on max difficulty," Sunset reminded them, "so of course they would play well."

"Maybe so..." said Indigo Bolt, seemingly unfazed by what she was up against. After drawing her two new cards, she smirked and told them, "But with this hand, I've got this Duel in the bag!" Taking one of the cards in her hand, she declared, "I activate the Spell Card, Amazoness Call! I use its effect to move Amazoness Spy from my Deck to my hand!"

"She's playing an Amazoness Deck..." noted Rarity as Bolt retrieved her chosen card.

"That Deck is notable for massive field swarming and even Summoning their member monsters during a Battle Phase." stated Sunset. "Not many of them have a whole lot of attack power, but their strength relies on their effects and in their numbers."

Showing a card from her hand, Indigo Bolt then said, "I now reveal Amazoness Scouts in my hand to Special Summon Amazoness Spy in Defense Mode!" Her first monster was a dark-skinned woman with ash-black hair wearing a headband and a face mask over her mouth, an indigo-blue cape, skull-shaped shoulder pads, and an outfit that consisted of minimal clothing: a short, red top and a skirt-like loincloth. She also had knee-pads and cloths wrapped around each of her feet, and carried a large knife in her right hand (Amazoness Spy: Level 3 / ATK 800 / DEF 1200).

"And then I'll Normal Summon my Scouts in Attack Mode as well!" Bolt added, playing the card she had revealed previously. Her next card brought a pair of younger girls, possibly no older then thirteen or so, but looked very physically strong for their ages. One had short, red hair and wore a yellow outfit that consisted of nothing more than a top and a short skirt. She wore brown-furred leg wrappings, but other than that, she was barefoot. A tattered tan cape hung behind her back, and she wielded a short sword. The other girl had short, blue hair and wore a blue outfit much like her companion. Her weapon of choice was a bow and arrow (Amazoness Scouts: Level 2 / ATK 500 / DEF 1100).

"Next, I activate the Spell Card Double Summon!" Indigo said next. "This allows me to Normal Summon one more time this turn! So I'll release my Spy for a Tribute Summon!" After her first monster vanished from the field, she then played her next monster and added, "Meet the ruler of Amazon Tribe! Amazoness Queen!!"

Her third monster in the Duel was a much taller woman with a very imposing appearance: Nestled among her long, blue hair was a skull-marked eye patch, assumedly as the result of a costly battle. Her top was nothing more than a tannish-brown bra top decorated with fangs and other markings. She had a flowing, red cape on her back that dropped down to her ankles, and an animal-skin skirt with a flap of cloth overtop of it that was intricately designed. Instead of typical footwear, the woman wore bandages on her feet, accentuated with bits of metal armor, and she carried a large sword in her hand (Amazoness Queen: Level 6 / ATK 2400 / DEF 1800).

"Not bad." stated Gilda. "That's one way of putting a powerful monster on the board."

"But neither of her cards aren't as strong as that monster the computer has out..." Fluttershy pointed out.

"Perhaps, but thanks to the Queen's effect, neither of her monsters can be destroyed in battle." stated Sunset.

The A.I. Duelist knew that too, which warranted its next move. "In response to your monster's Summoning..." it said, "I activate a Trap Card: Torrential Tribute."

"That ain't good..." Applejack told everybody. "That card wipes out every monster on the field!"

"And since Amazoness Queen can only protect herself in battle, she's powerless to stop it!" Rarity said with slight despair.

"...When it comes to the Queen of the Amazons," Bolt began to say, "there's no such thing as the word, 'powerless'!" Tapping her D-Pad's screen, she declared, "I chain the effect of Amazoness Scouts! By releasing them, I prevent my Amazoness monsters from being destroyed by card effects this turn! Which makes your Torrential Tribute a total wash-out!" At that moment, the two younger Amazons leapt in the path of the giant wave coming towards their Queen, taking the powerful wave at full force. Though they were destroyed as a result, the Queen was unharmed. The Archfiend - however, wasn't as lucky; it got caught up in the massive wave of water and got pulled under.

"Nice! That means her bigger monster's still on the field!" said Rainbow Dash. "And not only that, that digital dummy blew up his own monster in the process!"

"I wouldn't be so sure about that, Rainbow dear..." Rarity told her. "I think it is well aware of what it has done. Just take a look..." Everyone then turned their attention back to the screen, wondering what their friend meant.

"Activating second face-down card: Call of the Haunted." the computer then spoke. "Reviving Archfiend Emperor back from the Graveyard." And just as quickly as it was destroyed, the powerful Fiend came right back.

"Aw shoot... now it's back on the field again...!" stated Applejack, getting a little worried for Indigo Bolt.

"And her Queen has less attack points than that Archfiend card..." noted Sunset. "She can't take it on with brute force..." The red-and-yellow girl hummed in thought, wondering just what this young - but seemingly tough, girl had planned.

"I'll end my turn with two face-down cards." Bolt then said to the A.I. Duelist. "Your turn!"

"Draw Phase... drawing card..." said the computer's voice. "Standby Phase... Main Phase 1..." For a while the terminal said nothing, as it was processing its strategy. "Setting card face-down..." it then finally said, placing a card in the back row.

"And before you do anything else, I'll activate one of my Trap Cards!" shouted Bolt. "I play... Ojama Trio!"

*******************************

Ojama Trio:
(Normal Trap Card)

Special Summon 3 "Ojama Tokens" (Beast/LIGHT/Level 2/ATK 0/DEF 1000) to your opponent's field in Defense Position. They cannot be Tributed for a Tribute Summon, and each time 1 is destroyed, its controller takes 300 damage.

*******************************

"...Ojama Trio?" asked Gilda. "That's an odd choice for her Deck."

"It does seem weird that she would play a card that would give her opponent more monsters, even though all three of them are weak..." noted Twilight.

"Yeah, what would she wanna do that for?" Spike then asked. Sunset however, had a feeling that this was part of Bolt's strategy.

"Processing..." said the computer. "Activating the effect of Archfiend Emperor, the First Lord of Horror: Banishing Lancer Archfiend from the hand to target and destroy Amazoness Queen."

"Uh oh...! This doesn't look good!" said Pinkie Pie.

"It isn't good." said Bolt. But then she smirked and added, "Not good for the computer, that is! I chain a monster effect from my hand! I discard Effect Veiler from my hand to negate your Emperor's effect! Which means my Queen is still in command!" After discarding the last card in her hand, a small, angel-like girl with long, blue-green hair flew towards the massive Archfiend and surrounded it by a powerful aura of light that weakened it.

"Amazing!" Rarity commented. "She managed to counter the effect perfectly!"

"Which means she's still got a chance to turn this around..." Applejack added.

"...Initiating Battle Phase." the computer said, unable to make any other move to try and remove the Amazoness Queen on Bolt's side of the board. "Attacking Amazoness Queen with Archfiend Emperor, the First Lord of Horror." The massive fiend then got up off of its throne and readied its ridiculously large, blood-red sword. It then swung its sword down, aiming straight for Bolt's only monster.

"Not so fast! I play my other Trap Card, Amazoness Archers!" the young girl shouted. "With this card, I weaken your monster's attack by five hundred! Which means I only take a hundred points of damage!" After the card was flipped face-up, an army of bow-wielding Amazon warriors leapt into the middle of the battlefield. They took aim and fired a flurry of arrows at the Fiend-type monster, aiming for the arm that held its sword. When they struck, the Archfiend roared in slight pain, and - as a result of the hit to its arm, his swing was slowed down and made much less of an impact when it hit Amazoness Queen, blunting the battle damage (Indigo Bolt: LP 4,000 - 100 = 3,900).

"Thanks to the Trap Card," Gilda noted, "she took less damage, and her Queen's effect kept her on the field... But I'm sure you know:" The Griffonstone student then smirked and added, "That wasn't her REAL goal, was it?"

"Real goal?" asked Twilight.

"She's right, Twilight." Sunset chimed in. "Amazoness Archers has another effect: It switches all of the opponent's monsters into Attack Mode and forces them to attack. And if you recall, Indigo had just played a card that put more monsters on the opposing field..."

The Princess of Friendship gasped; she then realized what Bolt was trying to accomplish. "So that's it!" she said. "She played that card so that they'd be forced to attack AFTER she used Amazoness Archers!"

"Exactly." Sunset confirmed. "And since those Ojama Tokens on the other side of the field each have zero attack points, they'll get wiped out instantly. Between the battle damage, and the effect damage caused by each Token's destruction... The A.I. will take a total of 8,100 points of damage!"

"EIGHTY-ONE HUNDRED?!?" exclaimed the others in shock. But it was true: When all three of the Ojama Tokens were forced to attack Amazoness Queen, the blue-haired woman just sneered at the weaklings and swatted them all away with her sword, destroying them and wiping out the opposing player in one shot (A.I. Duelist: LP 4,000 - 8,100 = 0) (WINNER: Indigo Bolt).

"And that... is how you win a Match." the young girl simply said with a smile after she finished her game.

"...Did you see that??" asked Rainbow Dash. "She pulled off an OTK!" She - as well as the other Duelists within earshot of her, were quite impressed with how the younger player managed to win so easily.

Ember was among the people that had overheard Indigo Bolt's amazing victory. (Quite an interesting strategy... not to mention an unexpected one.) she thought. (A Duel with you might provide me with a significant challenge...)

Across the room, the Dazzlings had also heard of the young girl's impressive victory. "Hmmmm..." hummed Adagio, saying nothing more about it. Turning over to Sonata, she told her. "You're up next."

"I-I am?" asked the blue girl, a bit unsure about it all.

"I don't see any other Sonatas here, do I?" Adagio asked her.

"Yeah, thank goodness for that." Aria responded, shuddering at the thought of more than one of her. She then said to Sonata, "You'd better not screw this up."

Blushing out of slight anger, the blue girl told her pigtailed sister, "What makes you think I'd do that, Aria?!"

"Last week, you spent the whole day trying to solve a Where's Waldo book... and you were still on the first picture." Aria pointed out.

"Well, I'd like to see YOU try and find him!"

"I did." Aria replied. "About five seconds after you got frustrated and tossed the book at me."

"Girls, as interesting as this conversation is," Adagio interrupted them, "I should point out that the last group is already out there on the Duel Terminals. So perhaps we could save this... discussion until AFTER Sonata's done with her Match?" Aria grumbled a bit, but decided to keep quiet, even after Sonata pulled down an eyelid and stuck her tongue out at her as she left to play her Match.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

Less than three hours after the Preliminary Rounds started, they were over. Sunset - along with Twilight, Spike, and Mr. Dunstan, walked over to the crowd in the waiting area to make an announcement. "Duelists, we wish to thank you for coming to compete in the WCQ Qualifier Preliminary Rounds." the red-and-yellow girl said to them all. "We have just now finished calculating your scores." Showing the people in the room a sheet of paper, she then added, "The list printed on this sheet has the names of the top sixteen Duelists; They, and they alone, will be permitted into the main tournament for a chance to compete in World Championship Qualifiers this year!" Using a piece of clear tape, she posted the list onto the wall behind her and instructed the crowd, "Everyone form a neat and orderly line in front of the sheet to see if you made it in or not."

Immediately, the crowd of people were arranged into a single, straight line. Once they were, Sunset then allowed them to take a look at the list of names on the paper. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of disappointment among the crowd, as the vast majority of the players saw that they didn't make the cut.

But one that did was overjoyed to see their name on the list. "I can't believe it!! I actually got in! I ACTUALLY got into the tournament!!" cheered a happy Sweetie Belle, overjoyed by what had happened.

"And you deserve it, Sweetie Belle!" Rarity said to her, proud of her little sister's accomplishments. "I must admit, it's a bit funny: To think that once, you had a difficult time winning against anyone other than your friends, and now you're in a major Duel Monsters Tournament!"

"...Um, yeah. That's pretty funny." Sweetie responded with a bit of an annoyed tone.

Realizing that her comment may have come across as condescending, the violet-haired girl then said to her sister, "Oh, but I mean it in the best possible way, Sweetie Belle! I truly am proud of you and what you've accomplished! I speak the truth!"

Knowing that her sister's words weren't meant to put her down, the young girl smiled and said, "I know. Thanks Rarity." The two siblings then hugged each other afterwards.

"I've gotta say, I'm pretty impressed too." said Ember's voice. "To be honest, when I first saw you, I didn't think you'd make it. But Sunset told me that she'd been helping you improve, so I guess you showed it out there. Just don't get too cocky: You may have passed the prelims, but that doesn't mean the rest of this'll be easy. In fact, you'd better expect some tough competition up ahead."

"Well, I think my little sister will do very well for herself." Rarity replied. "In fact, I believe she'll even win the whole thing!" Turning to face Ember, she then told her, "What, do you think she's going to lose right in the first round?"

"Uh, I didn't mean it like that." the Bloodstone Duelist replied.

"Relax, Rarity." Sunset said to her fashionista friend. "That's just Ember's version of a pep talk. What she's saying to Sweetie Belle is that in a tournament as big as this, she should be ready for whatever opponent or challenge comes her way." Turning over to Sweetie, she told her, "You have to be prepared for anything and not play at anything but your best game, understand?"

Nodding, the young girl said, "I understand. I know what Ms. Ember meant, and I won't forget it!" Running over to Ember, she hugged her and said, "Thank you for the advice, Ms. Ember! I'll use it well!"

"Um, yeah. Great... Could you stop with the hugs? It's makin' me feel weird." the Bloodstone Duelist responded, feeling slightly uncomfortable from the gesture.

"Weird good? Or weird SUPER-good?" asked Pinkie Pie with a silly smile on her face. Ember decided not to respond to the pink girl's question.

After Sweetie Belle broke the hug and left to talk to Rarity, Sunset then said to Ember, "I see you made it in, too. Not that I'm surprised. After all, you managed to win your Match almost flawlessly."

"I said that I was planning to prove to you how much I've improved since we first met." Ember stated. Smirking, she then added, "I can't exactly do that if I lose the Prelims, can I? Just remember: If I win this thing, it's you and me, Shimmer. No holding back!"

Nodding the red-and-yellow teen told her, "You've got it. Good luck to you in the tournament." The Bloodstone Duelist nodded and walked off.

"She sure seems sure of herself, don't she?" asked Applejack.

"Well, she is the daughter of an ex-pro, and she won both her duels in the Prelim Match without losing one, so I don't blame her for feeling confident in herself." Sunset stated.

At that moment, Fluttershy came running up to the others with a smile on her face. "Girls...! You won't believe it!" she told them. "Gilda and I made it into the tournament...! Isn't that great...?!"

"You made it?! Awesome!! I knew you guys could do it!" cheered Rainbow Dash.

"Yeah, congrats!!" Pinkie shouted ecstatically. She then asked, "You're not nervous about it, are you Fluttershy? Y'know 'cause that's your thing and all?"

"I am a little bit, of course..." Fluttershy admitted. "But... I'm also a little excited, too...! It's strange; I never thought that I would ever want to do something like this... But, here I am; about to duel tough opponents... i-in front of a large crowd. A while ago, I never would have considered attempting something like this..."

"That just shows how much you've grown as a person, Fluttershy." Sunset told her. "You remember how nervous you were about the Inter-school Duel, and you didn't want to go through with it at first. But you did, and you're a stronger person because of it."

"I guess that's why I'm here..." Fluttershy figured to herself, "to prove how strong I've become to everyone... and to myself."

"You've already proven that, Flutters." said Gilda behind her. "You're a tougher chick than you give yourself credit for. You stood up to me even when I was actin' like a total jerk to you. You earned my respect that day... And well, that's kinda why I'm here."

"Wh-what do you mean, Gilda?" asked Fluttershy.

"Well, uh..." But before Gilda could get a word in...

"She wanted to join 'cause she wanted to feel like you respected her!" said a smiling Gabby, who appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

Blushing from embarrassment, Gilda then shouted, "G-Gabby!! I was trying to find a way to say that! You don't just blurt out mushy stuff like that in front of people!! I-it's embarrassing!!"

"Waah! I-I'm sorry! I didn't know!" the younger Griffonstone girl replied.

Sighing with a slight groan, Gilda then told Fluttershy, "I-I'll talk about this a little later. Gabby n' I have stuff t' do before the tournament tomorrow. We'll see ya later." The two Griffonstone students then took their leave, heading to another spot in the room.

"She... wants my respect?" asked Fluttershy. "I don't understand..."

"I'm not totally sure about what transpired between you and Gilda during that Inter-school Duel," Twilight began to say, "but it seems like Gilda still has some issues about the whole thing and still doesn't feel equal to you yet."

"Yeesh... talk about low self-confidence." Spike added.

"Eh, she's always kinda been like that." Rainbow Dash explained. "And I'd guess it's safe to say that - after we ended our friendship in the past, it was kind of a big blow to her, too. I mean, you all remember what she told us after the Duel was over and how miserable she felt?"

"Yeah, that was kinda sad to hear how unhappy she was..." Pinkie answered. "But... it does look like she's starting to feel a little better."

"I'm sure in time, Gilda will feel a lot better with herself and try to get past all of her earlier troubles." Twilight told them all.

"I guess we'll see." Sunset noted.

"So, who else got into the tournament?" Rainbow asked, changing the subject.

Looking at another copy of the tournament list, she told her, "Well, I don't know everybody on this list, but there are a few names that I recognize. There's Derpy and Zecora... they both finished with high enough scores."

"And there's that Flash guy, too." Spike pointed out.

"An' no surprise; that Indigo chick who pulled off the only OTK in the Prelims got in too." stated Applejack.

Sighing, Sunset then told her friends, "It also looks like Sonata made it into the tournament as well. Which means we'll have to make sure that she doesn't cause any problems in the competition, as well as both Aria and Adagio. To be honest, a part of me was hoping she'd make the cut; that way, we can keep a better eye on her and the others."

"I agree with you, Sunset." Twilight told her. "But..."

"But what?" asked Fluttershy. "Is something wrong?"

"Just one thing:" the young Princess explained. "I'm sure they're expecting us to keep an eye on them. After all, they know full well that we don't trust them to abide by the rules. But if they know we're watching, they'll likely fake being good just get us to drop our guards."

"Hmmm... you make a good point, Twilight." Sunset admitted. "That COULD be a problem. If they act like they've changed their ways when they really haven't, there's no point in any of us keeping an eye on them..." Just then, she got an idea. "That's it...! We just have to get ANOTHER pair of eyes on them: Someone that they don't know we're friends with!"

"But... who would do that?" asked Rainbow Dash, a bit skeptical.

"Hmmmm... I think I know a certain duo who would be happy to lend a hand." the red-and-yellow teen told her, glancing over behind her.

Having just emerged from the long line, Snips and Snails had just learned that neither of them make it into the tournament. "Aw man...!" Snails said to his buddy. "I was so close! I thought I'd get into that tournament for sure!"

"Well, what'd you expect?" asked Snips. "You lost the first two games in the Match; that's practically a guarantee that you wouldn't get into the tournament! Not that I did any better, of course. Why'd they hafta set the difficulty so high?!"

"Hey, you two." said Sunset's voice. She had walked up to the pair after noticing them leaving the line.

"Uh, hey Sunset!" said Snails. "Ummm... what're ya doin' here?"

"Uh, she's the Judge for the tournament... Remember?" Snips reminded his often-clueless friend.

"Oh yeah..." Snails responded.

"Speaking of judging," Sunset began to ask, "I can see that - judging from your disappointed-looking faces, that you didn't make the cut, right?" The two boys shook their heads no in response. "Well, don't get too bummed out about it." she said to them with a smile. "You may not have gotten in this time, but there will be other tournaments in the future. Until then, you should learn from your loss and try to grow from it."

"Yeah, I get it..." Snips replied.

"In any case, since you two aren't going to be competing," she then said to them, "I have something else to ask of you: Do you remember when I asked you to help me out with things involving the Numbers? It was just after Trixie and Twilight dueled each other."

"Yeah, I remember." the short, pudgy boy answered. "We hadn't found anything like that at the school yet, but Snails n' I have been lookin' all over."

"That's right!" the tall, thin boy chimed in.

"Well, anyway... It may not be related to Numbers - in fact, I'm hoping that Number cards have nothing to do with it at all," Sunset explained to them both, "but there is something important that I'd like you two to do for me." Pointing over to the line, she asked them, "Do you see those three girls waiting in line together?"

"Uhhh... Aren't they those Dazzlling chicks from the Battle of the Bands?" asked Snips. Growling a little, he told her, "Those jerks made fun of us when Snails and I were practicing our rap song! Sure, we lost in the first round, but they didn't need to rub it in and be jerks about it!"

"Well, my friends and I believe that they're up to no good again, and I'd like you two to keep an eye on them." Sunset instructed them. "If you see them doing anything suspicious, let me or my friends know."

"Um... I dunno... They're kinda scary, aren't they?" Snails asked her, shuddering a bit.

"I know it might be scary, and I know it isn't really a fair request. But anything you could do to help would really be appreciated." she told them. "So what do you say?"

Snips and Snails looked at each other for a moment, unsure of what to do. But they nodded to each other after having come to a decision. "You've got it, Sunset!" said Snips. "We'll make sure they don't try anything funny!"

"Don't get too ahead of yourselves, guys." Sunset warned them. "I don't want you two getting hurt or anything trying to stop them yourselves. Just let us know if they're doing anything bad and nothing else, got it?"

"Got it!" said the two boys with a hearty salute before leaving the room.

After they left Sunset then thought about everything she had said just now. (I really hope that the Dazzlings showing up at this tournament has nothing to do with those Numbers... Otherwise, this could mean much more trouble than just a potential blow to Canterlot City's reputation...) She then looked at her key necklace... and then the blank card that was given to her by Kisara, thinking more about everything she had learned concerning them, as well as the bizarre dream that she and Twilight had a few nights ago. All things considered, Sunset knew that - for her and her friends, more challenges would be coming their way once the tournament began...

-- To Be Continued...

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